Last Monday, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon came out of his meeting with U.S. President George W. Bush declaring a huge success: He was the last to influence the president before the latter was to formulate his vision on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
On Thursday, Sharon left a meeting with the finance minister and the governor of the Bank of Israel, announcing a similar achievement - coordination between the top dogs of the economic leadership.
In both cases, the content of the consultation was secondary to the very fact that they took place. The main thing was the impression: in Washington - a demonstration of closeness between himself and the American leader; in Tel Aviv - a photo opportunity with the aim of presenting a sense of single-mindedness among himself, Silvan Shalom and David Klein.
Neither instance provided real answers to the serious problems for which each meeting was intended.
Sharon returned from Washington without making any progress at all toward a solution to the conflict. On the contrary, it appears he secured Bush's consent to refrain from determining a binding framework and timetable for alleviating the conflict. Sharon is coming to terms with, or striving toward, perpetuating the status quo in the Israeli-Palestinian relations because he is averse to reaching the moment of truth - territories or peace. He is holding on to the cruel Palestinian terror so as to set up conditions that instantly undermine any chance of reaching the negotiations stage.
The demands he is making sound reasonable because they appear to derive from the actions of the Palestinians, but their practical result - and, apparently, their underlying intention - is to continue to maintain the Israeli hold on the territories. And in such a manner, the prime minister's demands for an absolute halt to terrorism prior to any political discussion, the implementation of reforms in the Palestinian Authority, and the dismantling of the terror infrastructure of the opposition organizations are becoming prerequisites that from the outset are sabotaging any possibility of diverting the violent conflict onto a path of negotiations. In of themselves, each of these demands is justified, but their accumulative results are a continuation of the terror attacks and a worsening of the multidimensional crisis gripping the country.
Sharon returned from Washington and seemed to say to the Israeli public: Keep spilling blood; keep living your lives out of a deep sense of vulnerability; and keep eroding your savings and lowering your standard of living because I have managed to maneuver President Bush into accepting my opinion not to take steps that would lead to a real turnaround in the situation.
This pattern of behavior was also evident after the economic summit meeting convened by the prime minister with the finance minister and the governor of the central bank. The meeting produced no real decisions: The announcement of the intention to slash another NIS 2 billion from the state budget is a drop in the ocean considering the size of required cut (at least NIS 10 billion); and it still remains to be seen if it is implemented or fades away, as has happened in recent months with similar declarations (the cancelation of benefits to geographic regions, the abolition of increased allowances to large families).
It is highly likely that the decision to summon the cabinet this week for a special session to discuss the economic crisis is also just another act in the greater scheme of things - to make an impression, but not to take practical steps. After all, in order to begin returning the economy to a path of growth, there is a need for a series of painful decisions - to divert monies from transfer payments to infrastructure, to cut the defense budget and to shrink the deficit.
Moreover, all the economists agree that without a sharp change in the security situation, it will be impossible to rescue the economy from the recession. What are the chances of the government and its leaders taking the necessary decisions so as to bring about the desired results? And who is gullible enough to believe that they will also determine reliable implementation and control tools so as to ensure that the necessary measures are indeed put into practice?
Sharon came out of the three-way meeting and seemed to say to the Israeli public: Keep being concerned about the economic situation and behave accordingly because I have indeed forced Klein and Shalom to pose together for a photograph, but I have no intentions, nor the ability, to change the fundamental data.
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