A survey by Haaretz that was conducted this week among registered Likud voters revealed that former finance minister Benjamin Netanyahu increased his strength after the disengagement. It's no wonder. Netanyahu has always been the favorite of Likud voters. Not only because of his extremism, and not only thanks to his hatred of Arabs, but because of something much more profound: the alliance of the screwed.
It's true that Netanyahu is a wealthy man, with an apartment in Jerusalem and a weekend home in Caesarea. It is also true that he is an Ashkenazi and smokes cigars. But in spite of that, he is seen as an outsider, as someone who is oppressed, persecuted by the media, not part of the elites. As a person whose father was ostracized because of his opinions the same is true of him.
Likud voters also still feel like outsiders in Israeli society and it makes no difference that that party has been in power for almost 30 years, with short breaks. They feel deprived and oppressed, they feel that they don't belong, which is why they identify so strongly with Netanyahu. He will always be greeted with applause in the Likud Party Central Committee, whereas Ehud Olmert and Dan Meridor (in his day) are greeted with open hostility because they are the elite.
Netanyahu knows very well how to ride this wave, and how to improve his speed. Immediately after resigning from the job of finance minister, he returned to his favorite arena: terror and scare tactics. On Monday, at a discussion that took place in the Knesset on the subject of the poverty report, he ignored the harsh statistics and started to talk about Gaza as a "free terror zone." "I tried to prevent it," he said, "I tried to influence and I didn't succeed ... Don't give them rifles, don't give them a port, don't allow them to establish a terror base, because that's what they'll establish, and I'm already tired of warning you."
This scare campaign has been going on already for three weeks, since the day Netanyahu resigned. On that same day he provided the public with a series of horror scenarios: "In Gaza an Islamic terror base is being established, Hamas is becoming increasingly strong." After that, his tone became more excited: "Missiles will be launched at Israeli cities from terror bases that we are allowing Islamic terrorists to establish in Gaza." Apocalypse tomorrow.
Fear is one of the strong components of the elections. And when "the expert" on terror says that the missiles will come, who will doubt him? And the moment the public is sufficiently frightened, it will seek the person who is capable of halting terror, eliminating Hamas and saving us from the missile threat. Because Netanyahu doesn't want missiles to fall on Israeli cities, God forbid. All he wants is to get the power at the ballot box to stop the danger.
Here the Palestinians have an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone: Both to disprove Netanyahu's prophecies and to teach the Jews one important lesson. If the Palestinian Authority and Hamas understand the heart of the Israeli public, they have to turn Gaza into the most peaceful place in the world. The most hospitable to guests. No more threats, no snipers, no attacks, no suicide bombers and, of course, no missiles launched on Israeli cities. Instead, they have to quickly fill the Gaza coast with a series of hummus and fish restaurants, and at the same time enable easy and convenient entry of Israelis to the Gaza Strip. If they do so, they will quickly discover the wanderlust and the purchasing power of the average Israeli, including Likud voters.
The moment it is possible to sit quietly in a restaurant on the beach, to enjoy the waves and the breeze, to eat hummus for NIS 10 and enjoy a fish meal for NIS 30 - the Gaza coast will become the biggest hit in Israel. If the residents of Gaza go so far as to operate a few food, furniture and fabric markets on the way to the coast their success is guaranteed. No self-respecting Jew (including a Jew who doesn't expel a Jew) will remain at home on the weekend. They will all stand in line on the way to Gaza.
Israeli tourist traffic is what will help set Gaza's economy in motion. Later the Palestinians will be able to operate the hothouses that remain in Gush Katif, build a seaport and return to cooperating with Israeli factories, as well as beginning to rehabilitate and develop infrastructure, with funding from the "donor countries." Then the investors from the Arab world and from the West will arrive, when they understand that there is a golden opportunity here.
The moment Gaza becomes an economic success story, and the severe unemployment there declines, PA Chair Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) will also become a success story. Because an Arab, like anyone else, first examines his personal situation to see whether he can make a decent living.
When that happens, it will become clear to every Israeli that if we give the Palestinians what they deserve we can live with them in peace and cooperation. In that case, maybe there is a point to having peace? And if so, maybe we should transfer this successful model a short distance to the east as well, toward the West Bank?
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