In the run-up to the New Year, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon suddenly discovered the poor. He said it was difficult to see the troubling pictures of people lining up to receive parcels for the holidays and the poor looking for food. "These are scenes that should not be, the state cannot run like this, the fabric of society is fraying," Sharon said.
Of course, he had nothing to do with it. He has been prime minister for three and a half years, but he is not responsible for anything. He had nothing to do with us becoming lepers in the eyes of the world, or our security situation, or our economic situation, or the budget distribution, or our moral situation. In fact, he is a kind of warning observer, a commentator from above.
Sharon does not want us to remember that he went up to the Temple Mount in September 2000 and that started off the intifada. He doesn't want us to understand that the intifada is the major factor behind the continuing economic crisis. For as long as there is war and terror attacks, as long as Israel appears on TV screens around the world as an occupying force engaged in a never-ending battle, then investors will not come and the economy will not return to an acceptable rate of growth, and so poverty and want will only deepen.
The intifada arrived like a giant ax cutting off the oxygen pipe to the economy. It increased uncertainty, stifled all investment and pushed consumption right down. It was the major factor behind the recession and the crisis, so that whoever did not act to bring it all to an end through policies way back then, is responsible for the social and economic outcomes.
The second reason behind the crisis was the high-tech collapse on Wall Street four years ago, dragging behind it the Israeli sector. The third reason was the economic policies that failed to cut back sufficiently on state spending and created a lack of faith in the public, which ran to the dollar, and which lead us to a situation where we couldn't borrow even one dollar from overseas.
In each of these three factors, there was some improvement in the year 5764. Thanks to sterling work by the security forces, we see less terror activity across the country. The crisis in the high-tech industry has transformed back into one of growth; the economic policies have much improved with Netanyahu in the treasury, who has cut the budget, reduced taxes and carried out a slew of important reforms in pensions and the ports.
As a result, the economy slipped into growth in 5764, albeit by a moderate rate of 3.5 percent of gross domestic product - which isn't enough nor stable. Investments and tourism have yet to return to 2000 levels and Europe is boycotting Israeli products due to political considerations. So, in order to achieve growth of 7 percent (as in 1994/95), which only then would reduce poverty and unemployment, we need to take the wider political view, and see calm on the security front - and that will only come with an agreement.
So when we hear the prime minister suddenly speak of poverty and crisis, we can only ask that he stop preaching like a commentator, and get back to the prime minister's job - because only there can he change reality and make 5765 a better year for all.
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