Text size

Fear, anxiety and worry are accepted and successful sales agents. The giant insurance industry rests on them to market its products. People are afraid that a burglar will break into their home or steal their car, or that they will suddenly die, and they are ready to pay someone who promises to compensate them in these events. The real danger is smaller; otherwise, the insurance companies would have collapsed instead of prospered.

Like insurance, Israeli politics also sells fear. Benjamin Netanyahu is building his campaign to return to the Prime Minister's Office on the public's fear of Palestinian terror. He warns against a terrorist state arising in Gaza, al-Qaida bases and Qassam rockets landing in Ashkelon. Experience has taught him that this works: In 1996, Netanyahu won the elections after a wave of terror, backed by a warning that "Peres will divide Jerusalem."

Fear is not a patent owned by Netanyahu; other politicians also employ fear with convincing success. For example, Tommy Lapid. Shinui put 15 MKs in the Knesset to block the "ultra-Orthodox domination." Shinui warned that Haredi parasites were multiplying and draining the national wealth, and would soon swallow up all of us. So what if Israel is much more secular than it was 20-30 years ago, mainly due to the immigration from Russia? The fears Lapid stoked were effective.

For years, the left fostered the myth of the "settler militia," the threatening and armed group entrenched on the hilltops of Samaria, preparing for civil war. Even Ariel Sharon adopted this language before carrying out the disengagement. And, when it was time to evacuate Gush Katif, the Yesha militia turned out to be a scarecrow. The settlers did not revolt against the state. The violence amounted to three serious attacks against Arabs and the incident on the roof at Kfar Darom.

Unlike the ultra-Orthodox takeover and the Yesha militias, Palestinian terror is not a scarecrow. It is alive and active, threatening and injuring and killing, and it is slowly and painfully folding Israel back to the Green Line. The problem is that Netanyahu, like Sharon, Peres, Beilin and Lieberman, has no unique response to this terror, other than the spouting of slogans, building the separation fence, strengthening the Shin Bet and hoping that the next suicide bomber will fail.

Netanyahu takes pride in the fact that there were few suicide attacks during his term in power, and he attributes this to his threat to expel the Palestinian leadership from the territories. Someone should remind Netanyahu that his attitude toward the Palestinian Authority was friendlier than the one he tries to portray. The cooperation between the Shin Bet and its Palestinian counterparts, Jibril Rajoub and Mohammed Dahlan, was then at its peak and Netanyahu conducted negotiations, under American pressure, on handing over part of the West Bank to Yasser Arafat. It is true that he demanded "reciprocity," and in return for 13 percent of the West Bank he received a second confirmation from Arafat that the Palestinian charter was annulled. Did this change anything in the Palestinian hatred for Israel, in the incitement or the buildup of force for the intifada? And if he returns to power, will he speak with Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) on additional withdrawals? Netanyahu hinted at this by saying he would have been ready to leave Gaza "with something in return."

Therefore, political declarations must be taken in proportion. It is all a matter of marketing. Netanyahu is counting on the fears of the public; the dim hope Sharon offers is simply a different package for the product called "vote for me." After all, in the previous round between the two, Netanyahu wanted to withdraw and Sharon warned about security disasters. In any case, a moment after the ballot boxes close, the elected officials deny what they said previously. We should remember this when the election campaign begins, and not rush to the television set because of fears and warnings. It is the same way in insurance: In most cases, the home is not broken into and only the company and agents profit from the premium. And this is what Netanyahu is also trying to achieve.