Former prime minister Ehud Barak had a little old lady in a Nahariyya hospital; former prime minister Benjamin (Bibi) Netanyahu has an unemployed accountant in Ofakim. Barak promised to move the old lady from the corridor into the ward, and at the same time to solve all of Israel's health and welfare problems; Netanyahu promised, at the Likud Central Committee meeting this week, to arrange work for the unemployed woman, and at the same time to solve all of Israel's economic and social problems.
The unemployed woman from Ofakim touched Netanyahu's heart. He reported how she had brought him to tears with her "Help me to find work, I'm going to the soup kitchen in order to bring home food." And he, the knight in shining armor, listened to her attentively, and even led her to understand that if we don't vote for him, we will all find ourselves in that same soup kitchen - how frightening.
Netanyahu promised many other things. He promised to wipe all our tears and to restore our livelihoods and dignity: "I will bring economic and social change, more work, more money in your pocket. We received a country in bad shape in 1996, and we gave back a country [in 1999] in good shape; everyone admits it."
So here's a surprise for him: Not everyone admits it. To be more precise, nobody with a good memory admits it.
It's quite simple to examine what Netanyahu received and what he gave back. We can do so with the help of two accepted indices - growth and unemployment. In 1996, Netanyahu received an economy with a substantial growth rate of 5 percent. But during his term of office, growth declined year after year; and when he left, it stood at only 2.3 percent. At the start of Netanyahu's term unemployment was at only 6.6 percent. But when he transferred the leadership to Ehud Barak, it had already risen to 8.9 percent - a clear failure.
It's true that Netanyahu inherited a problematic legacy in the area of the budget and the balance of payments. He attacked this double deficit by means of a sharp cutback in government expenses - an important and proper step. But his plan was that after a few months of slowdown (due to the sharp cutback), the economy would recover and growth would return to the rate seen during the period 1994-1995 - 7 percent annually.
It's not hard to remember how he and Moshe Leon, the director-general of his office, used to go to the media every two or three months to report "signs" of an emergence from the recession and of a renewal of growth. But it never arrived.
Immediately upon assuming office, Netanyahu stopped honoring the agreements signed by his predecessors with the Palestinians, even though before the elections, he had promised to continue with the Oslo process. He severed connections with the other side, increased the rate of settlement growth and led the Palestinians to believe that there was no point in talking about a continuation of the withdrawal. Following consultations with Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert, he opened the tunnel under the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, causing a renewal of the fighting, many casualties on both sides and the destruction of the trust that had been built up with great effort.
Thus Israel began once again to star on television screens the world over as a dangerous country; and the result was a sharp change in the mood - from hope to depression. Investments were stopped; private consumption declined; development came to a halt; and the economy sank into a recession that continued during the entire three years of his government.
Now, Netanyahu proposes a continuation of the war, including the expulsion of Arafat. In other words, another economic-social decline.
To anyone willing to listen he tells fairy tales, promising that when he gets into the government, he will remove bureaucratic obstacles, reduce the involvement of the government in the economy, carry out privatization, reduce taxes and invest in infrastructure - so many slogans, it's enough to make one dizzy.
But Netanyahu has already served as prime minister. Why then didn't he do away with bureaucracy? Why then didn't he reduce taxes? Why then didn't he increase investments in infrastructure?
Facts have never made any impression on the man who invented economics. Netanyahu assumes that the voters are quite stupid, have no memory, and that one can sell them anything. Success depends only on the wrapping and on personal charm. Maybe he's right. We'll know that after the primaries in the Likud in another two weeks.
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