Happy Am I, for I Am a Beggar

There was a time, many years ago, when someone who was forced to become a beggar was at least embarrassed about it. Today, Sharon's panhandling is a sign of upward mobility.

What with the abundance of well-directed leaks from the Prime Minister's Office, I almost drove to the airport to welcome back Dov Weisglass, in song and dance, upon his return from the United States with $10 billion in his suitcase. Given the plethora of newspaper headlines, we were practically led to forget that the American president can't even replace the curtains in his office without approval from Congress, which hasn't even begun to debate the Israeli request.

Moreover, based on all the envy-provoking stories about Weisglass' excellent meetings with Condoleezza Rice (it was proudly noted that he had met with her twice!), we almost forgot that the administration itself has not yet begun to discuss the request, and that the White House has yet to release any public statement on the matter.

But what significance do these piddling details have when compared to the Likud primaries scheduled for today and Sharon's desire to win a few points over Netanyahu. Evidently, the ability to cozy up to the Americans is considered a positive attribute among Likud voters. There was a time, many years ago, when someone who was forced to become a beggar was at least embarrassed about it. Today, Sharon's panhandling is a sign of upward mobility.

But the sad truth is that the panicked flight to the rich uncle is essentially a broad-daylight confession by Ariel Sharon and Silvan Shalom: We failed - big time! When we entered office, we promised to bring peace, security and growth, and reduce the rate of unemployment. And what did we bring? - war, a deterioration in the sense of personal security, a deep recession and a rise in unemployment rates. This has been the effect of our excellent management over the past two years, management that has turned us into lepers around the world, into a state whose genuine ranking is so low that if you tried to raise money abroad (and Israel needs $2.5 billion a year), the interest charged on it would force Israel to the brink of bankruptcy. This is why we need Bush's rescue funds.

But a moment before the stories of "the good, positive meeting that took place in an excellent atmosphere" wholly inundate us, it might be wise to ask Weisglass what happened to the $200 million in "special security aid" that the Bush administration promised Sharon it would push through Congress so as to cover the expenses of the withdrawal from Lebanon? This sum represents a lousy two percent of the $10 billion. So how is it that Sharon has been unable to secure this pittance?

Congress has yet to approve transfer of the sum, just as it has delayed approval of other budget laws; and in the meantime, a new Congress is being installed, with no one quite sure about exactly how it will act.

The United States is now suffering from an economic slowdown, while, on the other hand, there has been a second increase in its own defense expenditures, due to the planned war on Iraq. There will, therefore, be those members of Congress who will say that charity begins at home, and there will be those who vote against transferring any more aid as long as Sharon continues to expand the settlements, fails to uproot unlawful outposts, remains unwilling to continue diplomatic negotiations and is evading Bush's "road map."

Some 10 years ago, Israel had good reason to ask for bank guarantees. At the time, the country was absorbing a million immigrants from the former Soviet Union - a social task that was tantamount to the absorption by the United States of the entire population of Italy. But now, the lion's share of Israel's socio-economic crisis may be attributed to governmental policies.

The request for aid from the United States notes that the intifada and preparations for war with Iraq have caused a sizable increase in defense expenditures, as well as serious harm to the economy. But aside from the expected war with Iraq, all the rest has been the outcome of Sharon's management. When he took office, he promised to end the intifada ("Let the IDF win"); and when his efforts to stop terrorism by military means failed, when he had pulverized the Palestinian Authority and brought about the strengthening of Hamas and Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, when he did not agree to any diplomatic move, he had to realize that the Israeli economy and society would pay the price. And what we are paying now is only the downpayment.