Life in the 'sort of' country
But because of the complex security situation, which raises the levels of risk and uncertainty, because of the enormous resources diverted to the IDF, the Shin Bet and the Mossad, we cannot manifest the real growth potential of the country.
"May you have a magical year," was the greeting I received from a young woman who called me on behalf of the HMO in order to convince me that I needed supplementary health insurance. Some time ago, she would make do with a simple "Happy New Year," but today everything is more extreme, more market focused. Regular words have given way to superlatives, and after all, more is better.
If you are asked "How are you?" and you dare answer "OK," all the antennae are immediately raised. "What's the problem?" they will ask. "There is no problem." But the person asking the questions remains unconvinced. These days the answer must be "Everything is 100 percent," "Everything is perfect," because in the age of ratings there no room for understatement.
The situation quickly becomes critical if you dare answer: "Everything is sort of OK." "What does 'sort of' mean?" will be immediately fired at you. "What is going on? Are there problems?"
If we examine the economic-security situation in which we are living in Israel, we will quickly reach the conclusion that we are living in a "sort of" country.
Indicators suggest the economic situation has never been better. Growth is on the rise and this year will reach about 5 percent. Per capita consumption is rushing forward, unemployment is in a downward trend (7.6 percent during the second quarter of 2007) and 372,000 persons found jobs in the past four years. They went from being in a condition of intentional and demeaning unemployment to employment with integrity. Wages have also increased in the past two years, and there is even a slight drop in poverty.
How then are all these beautiful figures reconciled with our security and political situation - and the high risk which surrounds them?
If any country in Europe had these wonderful figures to show in terms of growth and employment, everyone would be happy. The public would assume next year would be good, and businesspeople would take more loans and start more businesses, since there is a stable business environment in which there is no likely risk of attacks or death.
But in Israel the situation is different. There is no stability and there is no peace. The ground on which we stand is rumbling. The tension in the air leaves no one unaffected.
On Sunday, a 15-year-old Palestinian tried to cross an IDF checkpoint near Nablus. Corporal Guy Faraj suspected him and checked his harmless-looking black plastic bags, and discovered that he carried three pipe bombs and the switch to set them off. When questioned the teenager said that the bombs were meant to be part of a suicide bomb belt that was to be used in Tel Aviv.
During the cabinet meeting held that same day, Shin Bet Chief Yuval Diskin said that in recent weeks there have been incessant attempts to carry out attacks in the center of the country, and that last week, an attempt to sneak an explosives-laden vehicle into central Israel was foiled.
To this should be added the incident in Syria, which follows months of tensions over the Golan Heights.
"We will respond soon to the overflights of Israeli military aircraft over our territory," said Syria's vice president. No Western country is under such a threat, on so many fronts. There is no country where a city - Sderot - suffers missile attacks daily, its main urban areas are under constant suicide bomb threats, and where the state is under genuine existential threat.
In other words, the level of risk in Israel is several factors greater than that acceptable in Western countries, and still, our economy is growing at a faster pace. How can that be?
The answer depends on your point of view. We are impressed by a growth rate of 5 percent, but the truth is that Israel's potential for growth is much higher, closer to 10 percent per year. Like China and India. Like Israel in the 1960s. But because of the complex security situation, which raises the levels of risk and uncertainty, because of the enormous resources diverted to the IDF, the Shin Bet and the Mossad, we cannot manifest the real growth potential of the country.
All indicators suggest that salvation will not come from Ehud Olmert. He will carry on his media spins with Mahmoud Abbas, in rejecting Assad's initiatives, and will keep us also in this new year stuck with a high "Israeli risk" and with a "sort of" country. So, have a magical new year.
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