Text size

It has been a fair while since a plan - yet to be put into practice - has earned such credit with the general public. The stock exchange is blooming, yields on government bonds have been significantly reduced and the dollar came and went. And all of this - moments before a general strike hits the nation - has occured when it's not even clear which parts of the plan will eventually be implemented, how big the deficit will end up, when the U.S. aid and loan guarantees will arrive, or even whether the Iraq war's successful conclusion (for the Americans) will boost the Israeli economy.

Meanwhile, knowing how Histadrut head Amir Peretz, his One Nation gang and the big labor unions look out for their own interests, the general strike looks likely to start, if not tomorrow, then immediately after Pesach. In internal talks in the Finance Ministry, Minister Benjamin Netanyahu referred to this when he said, "In the past two years, those who receive welfare payments were the ones hurt. But now, when pay in the public sector is threatened, there is a hullabaloo, they shove those welfare recipients - pensioners and the like - in the front of the demonstrations, when there is no intention to cut their payments."

In the same conversation, Netanyahu appears convinced that if the economic plan is passed, the economy will emerge from the mire of the current crisis. He estimates that "within five years, Iraq will become Saudi Arabia in terms of oil and investment. Oil prices will drop dramatically, there will be a turnabout in development in the whole region, including the Palestinians who will move to work in Iraq, which will put a positive spin on their economy too."

But the big question is whether Netanyahu will cope with the pressure of the demonstrations and mud-slinging. To that he says, "I will stand up to it, the problem is not with me but with the government, or to be more precise, the prime minister. I will not allow the economy to collapse, but Peretz assumes that at some point the prime minister will go behind my back, sit him down to talk, and that he'll manage to get everything that I do not intend to give, because I care for the economy."

Netanyahu also said in these same internal talks, that if the Histadrut and Amir Peretz could see now that the prime minister stands firm behind the plan, and actually condemns the sanctions and strikes, Peretz would "think twice" about leading the strike. Netanyahu believes that at the critical moment, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon - who for the meantime has kept mum and given no backing - will stick the knife in, and he had this to say to his confidants: "I am not so sure Sharon understands the depth of the crisis we are in. I am not sure he understands we are in a very volatile and dangerous situation. The credit the plan received from the capital markets is not a sure thing. The markets are expecting, and will be sorely disappointed if the plan is not followed through. If it were up to me, the plan would be done, but I was not elected prime minister."