Caesarea Conference / Repeating the Past

The Caesarea Conference has been held for the past 13 years, but has never before been so political. The disengagement pervaded its walls and left no one indifferent.

Four main studies are presented at the conference every year, but this time, just one caught the attention of all: "The economic implications of the disengagement."

The study concludes that failure to carry out the disengagement at this point in time would mean a huge financial expense. The researchers, headed by Prof. Daniel Tzidon, warned that if the pullout was called off as the result of a government decision, the economy would slip into a depression deeper than that caused by the latest intifada, thus widening the social and economic gaps in society.

The paper doesn't hold back, concluding that a failure to implement the pullout would lead to an economic collapse, undermine the democratic fabric due to the government's loss of authority and a renewal of the intifada. The final result will be a 10-percent falloff in Gross National Product over a period of three years - namely, the loss of NIS 50 billion.

Benjamin Netanyahu, chairman of the conference, could not remain indifferent in the face of the unequivocal conclusions. The moment he could, he took the podium and presented his own theory: First, he is opposed to the disengagement; and second, he is the most socially-conscience individual around, bypassing Amir Peretz on the left. After all, he is suggesting that the money be used differently: Instead of spending NIS 8 billion-10 billion on the pullout, Netanyahu suggests that the money go to the elderly, the disabled, the ill, the basket of health services, working mothers, and the campaigns against violence and traffic accidents.

The audience was taken aback by the kindness, compassion and love expressed by Netanyahu for Israel's weaker sectors. Did it have anything to do with the elections scheduled for the first half of 2006? Of course it did. The Caesarea Conference is just one small stepping stone in Netanyahu's theory of stages.

This theory states that he must first win the heart of the Likud Central Committee, known for its right-wing stance; and to this end, he voices opposition to the disengagement, declares his support for the razing of the settlers' homes, and tells us all horror stories about the Hamas state that will arise in the wake of the pullout and wipe us out.

Stage two involves winning over the extreme right. This Netanyahu will do after the Likud primaries with the help of a number of radical announcements regarding the annexation of two-thirds of the West Bank and the eradication of terror as a precondition for any contacts with the other side.

Stage three comes two to three months ahead of the general election, and can be called "the glance to the left." Netanyahu knows, after all, that in order to defeat the Labor candidate, he needs the vote of the centrists. Therefore, a month or two before the election, he will begin courting the left and speaking about "the importance of peace" and the fact that "agreements have to be honored" and "the necessity of negotiations with the Palestinians" - and the centrists may believe that this time, he means it.

And how do I know that this is all going to happen? Because it is exactly the way he did things when he ran for prime minister in 1996.