The past three years have plunged Israel into a social-economic recession that is even deeper than the major recession of 1966-1967 and the slump that followed the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Not a day goes by without announcements of factories being shut down and businesses going bankrupt. Not a day goes by without the bad news that more people have lost their jobs in industry and commerce, and this week the organizations of the self-employed filed an all-inclusive request to erase their debts. The official figures tell of a decline of 8 percent in the standard of living in the past three years, so this time, perhaps, the awakening will come from the social-economic direction. Even now, before the planned publicity campaign has begun, 39 percent of the public (according to a poll published by the mass-circulation daily Yedioth Ahronoth) supports the "Geneva Accord," signed by nongovernment Israeli and Palestinian representatives.
The very fact that such an agreement was reached undercuts the central argument of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon that there is no one to talk to. It turns out that the representatives of the Palestinian side received the blessing of Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat before embarking on the project. The composition of the delegation itself (three former cabinet ministers, several members of the Palestine Legislative Council and ranking security figures) shows that this is a distinguished group from the heart of the Palestinian establishment.
Similarly, the fact that the 44-page agreement goes into great detail indicates that agreement can be reached on even the most contentious issues: the right of return, Jerusalem, dismantlement of the terrorist organizations and determination of the borders of the Palestinian state. A senior minister from the Likud, who made me swear not to divulge his identity, said: "Deep down, we know that even if we continue to shed their blood and our blood for another 30 years, in the end we will have to evacuate all the territories - apart from minor adjustments - and they will establish a state."
The first government of Menachem Begin created the precedent of full withdrawal from occupied territory to the last grain of sand, including the oil fields, including Taba, including the town of Yamit. The Geneva Accord is better. It gives Israel all the new neighborhoods around Jerusalem, the Latrun enclave, the Gush Etzion settlements, the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem and the Western Wall, and it broadens the country's "narrow waist" across from Ben-Gurion International Airport. These are tremendous achievements. In return, the Palestinians will get two strips of land in the Negev. They abandoned their dream of the right of return and we gave up the idea of sovereignty on the Temple Mount, which in practice we did not have anyway.
However, Prime Minister Sharon lost no time in rebuffing the danger of peace. He condemned the left for "conducting talks with the Palestinians behind the government's back in time of war." Industry and Trade Minister Ehud Olmert (Likud) joined the fray, declaring, "One's heart bursts with rage, astonishment and shame." Minister without Portfolio Uzi Landau (Likud) railed that it was another "Munich agreement." Justice Minister Yosef Lapid (Shinui) was shocked: "An irresponsible document that is totally out of the question." Tourism Minister Benny Elon (National Union) used scare tactics: "Yossi Beilin is a collaborator with the enemy." And it's not worth wasting words over the reaction by former prime minister Ehud Barak.
In contrast to these petty politicians, the country's citizens know that if the present situation continues unchecked, there will no longer be a Jewish majority between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, and then it will be enough for the Arabs to demand annexation and the right to vote in order to put an end to the democratic Jewish state. Everyone also knows that the way to put a stop to the deep economic crisis is to get investors to start pouring money into the country again and get tourists to start visiting again, and for that to happen the "Israeli risk" has to be eliminated. That means not only the danger of terrorist attacks, but also the constant threat by all the Arab states. Only when a regional settlement is achieved and peace and quiet return, will the analysts recommend that investors put money into Israel. It's only then that growth will return and with it jobs, and it will become possible to start solving the country's serious social problems.
It has already been proved innumerable times that there is a close connection between the political-security situation and the economic and employment situation. Therefore, the key to ending the social-economic crisis is now in the hands of the government. Ariel Sharon can choose between sanctifying the settlements and living by the sword, and the hope that the Geneva Accord offers.
Want to enjoy 'Zen' reading - with no ads and just the article? Subscribe todaySubscribe now