A Matter of Character

An economy is built on expectations, and when Israel turns into an isolated state and a pariah, its risk level rises and large numbers of companies all over the world do not want to have anything to do with it.

One day, the scorpion decided to cross the river but since he didn't know how to swim, he asked the frog to take him on his back. The frog took a lot of convincing, but eventually he agreed. However, when they reached the middle of the river the scorpion stung the frog. "Why did you do that?" the frog asked, "now both of us are going to die." "There's nothing I can do about it," the scorpion replied, "it's my nature."

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also only wants to get through his term of office safely. He doesn't want to turn Turkey into an enemy and also does not intend to cause relations with Egypt to deteriorate. He really does not want to fight with the United States, the only ally we have left. But what can be done - that is his nature. He is convinced he can fool the entire world all the time - to speak about a two-state solution but refuse to make any concession; to call for direct negotiations, but to present the other side with illogical demands. But then the moment comes when the entire world sees that it is a bluff, and then we start to drown.

In a matter of two and a half years, Netanyahu has succeeded in bringing Israel to an unprecedented strategic low, to a situation in which we are lying on the ground with hands covering our heads while everyone happily kicks us without the slightest fear. The government of Turkey sends our ambassador packing, with scorn, and then gives instructions to cut off military and commercial ties, and even makes an oblique hint about using its country's ships against us in the Mediterranean. The military regime in Egypt warns us not to dare to take action in Gaza because the shaky peace treaty between us will be in danger of cancellation.

But what hurts most - and is most dangerous - is that meeting in the White House at which Netanyahu was described by the former Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, as being "ungrateful toward the United States and endangering the country by refusing to deal with Israel's growing isolation and with the demographic challenges it faces if it keeps control of the West Bank." Obama nodded in agreement. He is completely fed up with Netanyahu.

The basic reason for this collapse in Israel's status is the occupation. Because the occupation brings down moral standards and clouds the difference between good and bad. And as time goes on, the occupying power begins to believe that what it did not succeed in solving with strength, it will solve with greater strength. And then the army begins to be the main factor in society and we find ourselves involved in violent incidents and serious conflicts, even with those who could have been our very best friends.

Netanyahu's escape route from the diplomatic low to which he has brought us runs via the economy. He believes it is possible to argue with the entire world, to continue the conflict with the Palestinians, but to achieve economic growth and a higher standard of living. He is not prepared to understand that peace is an essential condition for a healthy and thriving economy.

Now it is true that it is possible, for a certain amount of time, to enjoy a reasonable economic situation even without peace, but that doesn't work for an extended period. Because without peace everything is unstable, everything is likely to collapse at any moment. Remember the severe economic crisis during the second intifada?

An economy is built on expectations, and when Israel turns into an isolated state and a pariah, its risk level rises and large numbers of companies all over the world do not want to have anything to do with it. Already there are large workers' organizations that boycott Israeli products, and ports where they are not prepared to offload Israeli goods. And this merely gets worse by the day. It was with good reason that the Governor of the Bank of Israel, Stanley Fischer, got so upset this week when he heard about the possibility of trade with Turkey being affected, and said that this would have a detrimental effect on Israel's economy. And we have not yet mentioned the giant defense budget which comes at the expense of infrastructures, society and welfare, and which is a result of the ongoing conflict.

That is to say, it is impossible to perform a miracle. It is not possible to enjoy a stable economy that grows over an extended period and supplies decent social services, without achieving peace.

At a meeting held this week between Netanyahu and Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the prime minister said he was blushing as he left the room. He was referring to the affectionate slaps on the face he had received from the rabbi. But the truth of the matter is that there should have been another reason for blushing - the shame Netanyahu should feel for having brought us to this deepest of low points, isolation and weakness.