The figures released yesterday by the Central Bureau of Statistics confirmed what we have all known for some time, that 2001 was one of the worst years for the Israeli economy. However, there is no place for comparison with the austerity years.
In the first nine months of 2000, we were riding on a wave, believing that we were on the road to great happiness, but in October these dreams were dashed two times - the Al-Aqsa Intifada broke out and the Nasdaq crashed. The results came through in 2001; a drop in the gross domestic product by 0.5 percent, shrinking of the business sector by 2.1 percent, a rise in unemployment to 9 percent, a sharp fall in exports, a widening balance of payments deficit, falling investment in construction and machinery, while the one figure that has kept its head above water is a low and stable inflation rate. If that had also collapsed, the socio-economic crisis which we find ourselves in would be even worse.
We can't even look with hope toward the future - praise be to Him if only we could - due to such a broad government (83 Knesset members in the coalition) that weakens it. The prime minister controls neither coalition partners nor Knesset members, including his own Likud faction. Revisions to the 2002 government budget were brought to the cabinet quite late, as Finance Minister Silvan Shalom insisted until the last moment that the economy would grow next year by 4 percent. But now that he is finally going in the right direction (apart from his stand on the Negev Law), he is being thwarted by a cynical Knesset which seems not remotely interested in the socio-economic state, but rather in feathering one's own nest.
Every MK is a law to himself, which is why we start 2002 without an approved state budget that, due to expensive populist legislation, is damaging the economy and the infrastructure.
The gap between the real needs of the economy and the use of resources for political purposes continues to grow. Just take a look at Eli Yishai and his "Fifth Child Law," or Amir Peretz who broke up talks on an economic emergency deal. And for as long as the quarrel between Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Shalom continues, the crisis worsens and the economy suffers. It is always hard to be finance minister, but when the prime minister fails to support you, all is lost and so is the economy.
Now is the time that we miss someone in particular, who is no longer with us, who took the wheel in steering the economy in 1979 and didn't hesitate to tell the truth directly without political accounting and with no concern to his own fate. Someone who used to cry from the heart: Don't be crazy! Get off the roof!, and who resigned when teachers received a raise against his advice. How right he was. He was a prophet of truth. But we failed to listen, and so the economy spiraled downward to crisis proportion, hyperinflation and the last dollar. Yigal Horowitz is sorely missed today.
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