Israel's Financial Success Can't Overcome Political Despair

Despite a stable economy raising the quality of life, the once hoped-for peace is becoming less likely.

Passover isn't a holiday that obliges us to examine ourselves. It's not Yom Kippur. But it does mark the Exodus from Egypt: a transition from slavery to freedom. It celebrates the consolidation of the Jewish people. And so, on the eve of the holiday, we have to consider why "this night is different from all others." Have we actually progressed toward freedom over the past 62 years?

Let's examine this question by looking at two major aspects of our lives: the political and the socioeconomic.

When it comes to politics, it would appear that the left-wing approach has won. The right wing has accepted the left's old concept of "two states for two peoples." It's a fact that even Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is humming the tune once sung only by peace activist and writer Uri Avnery.

But this is Netanyahu-style trickery. He has stolen the left's slogan for propaganda purposes and doesn't dream for a second of carrying it out. Netanyahu continues to build in Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, including Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan. He continues to enlarge Jewish neighborhoods in north Jerusalem. And he even secretly supports continued construction despite the so-called temporary freeze.

Of course, this comes at the price of a crisis with the U.S. government, the deep personal revulsion on the part of President Barack Obama, and the series of humiliations Netanyahu was subject to on his last visit to the United States. But Netanyahu wipes the spit off his face and says: The insults are unimportant, the denunciations don't matter. The main thing is the Land of Israel.

Netanyahu doesn't plan to offer the Palestinians a viable state within the pre-1967 borders. His two-state solution means a tiny Palestine torn into three parts, lacking reasonable territorial contiguity, without any hold on greater Jerusalem, which will soon extend to Ramallah.

This tiny Palestinian state will not include the Jordan Valley in the east (where the Israel Defense Forces will be deployed), and two long fingers will stick straight into its eyes: Ariel and Ma'aleh Adumim. No Palestinian leader will accept such a state, and this is precisely Netanyahu's goal.

It's also the settlers' goal. After all, they are the ones who have been setting the public agenda for 43 years. Moshe Levinger will always be remembered as the person who determined the fate of the country when he brought Gush Emunim to Sebastia in 1975, and from there to all Samaria.

Ever since, we've been drawn into more settlements and more confrontations, another intifada and another war. And war, after all, is our mission. In a few days we will read the Passover Haggadah: "In every generation they rise up to destroy us." If so, are we at all to blame?

The thing that hurts the most is how the sides have changed. How the Arabs have become peace lovers and we have turned into rejectionists. Sunday marks eight years since the Arab peace initiative: a suggestion proffered by all Arab states in unison for peace and normalized relations in return for an Israeli withdrawal to the pre-1967 borders. Israel didn't even bother to respond. That same year, 2002, Syrian President Bashar Assad offered a peace agreement in return for a withdrawal from the Golan Heights. His hand, extended in peace, was also rejected contemptuously by Israel, the same way it rejected Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whom Israel described as "a weak leader," while accelerating construction in the West Bank.

The second aspect of our lives is socioeconomic. Here, too, the right wing has triumphed. The country's founding fathers were socialists who felt the state knew better than its citizens how to handle money. And so a strong central government was required, with a large budget, high taxes, protection of local goods, allocating capital by central planning. In short: a planned economy like that of the former Soviet Union.

But in 1985, a revolution took place. A group of young economists in the Finance Ministry began to steer us in a new direction. They preached reducing the budget, lowering taxes, opening the market to competition from abroad and liberalizing restraints on foreign currency and capital. In short: a free market.

The right-wing economists won, and we feel the results every day: economic stability, flourishing exports and a rise in the standard of living. There is a social aspect to their success, because only when a market economy triumphs and wealth and taxes increase can more money be allocated to the weaker sectors of society.

The anomaly is that the political situation is dangerous and a cause of despair, in contrast to the impressive economic success. But the connection between these two sectors reveals an atmosphere of depression. Once there was hope for a better future. Once there were parents who said to their children: "When you grow up, there will be no need for you to serve in the army." Once emigrating from the country was an embarrassment. Once we believed that peace was within reach.

But now pessimism reigns. Many people ask whether the country will last another 20 years. Parents are no longer embarrassed to say that their children have gone to try their luck abroad. It seems that financial success has not succeeded in overcoming political despair.

In fact, these two sectors are connected, because without massive support from the United States and the prospect of peace, the economy cannot continue to flourish much longer.