The strategies of the two major parties are gradually becoming clear: Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu is running on a security ticket and Labor Party chairman Isaac Herzog on socioeconomic issues. That doesn’t mean neither will speak about other issues, but each of them will put an emphasis on his strong point.
Netanyahu began doing so this week, when he attacked Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for having dared to seek statehood at the United Nations and applied for membership to the International Criminal Court in The Hague. Speaking at a cabinet meeting, Netanyahu declared that the PA’s leaders are the ones who really ought to stand trial in the ICC, and that he won’t allow Israel Defense Forces soldiers to be dragged there. He even froze 400 million shekels ($101 million) in customs duties that Israel collects on the Palestinians' behalf and was supposed to transfer to the PA.
The Israeli people love this — the show of power, the determination, the contempt for the other side. And Netanyahu supplies these goods lavishly, including by endless repetitions of the Iranian threat.
Herzog can’t compete with this unequivocal extremism. The messages he’s sending on diplomatic and security issues are too complex. After all, he truly believes in a two-state solution, but that will entail far-reaching concessions encompassing most of the territories — essentially, a withdrawal to the 1967 lines with territorial swaps. And go explain that to the people on the eve of an election.
Therefore, Herzog will run on socioeconomic issues, where he is stronger than Netanyahu. After all, economic gaps are wide, poverty is deep, the cost of living is outrageous and housing prices are sky-high. And Likud provided no solutions for these problems during all its years in power.
Netanyahu solves the economic issue by declaring that there’s no connection between the diplomatic situation and the economic one, and that Israel doesn't need a peace agreement in order to grow and thrive. He plans to “manage” the conflict, not solve it. The problem is that managing the conflict is a more expensive policy that will necessarily lead to an economic collapse.
Managing the conflict forces Netanyahu to constantly support increasing the defense budget. We have to prepare for the possibility of a new intifada; Hezbollah has tens of thousands of missiles aimed at us; we face a threat from the Islamic State terror group, also known as ISIS; instability reigns in Iraq and Syria; and, of course, there’s the Iranian nuclear threat. Therefore, the only part of the state budget that has grown in real terms, year after year, is the defense budget — and this comes at the expense of education, health, welfare and infrastructure.
Another economic cost of Netanyahu’s policy of torpedoing negotiations is our deteriorating international standing. International patience with us is steadily eroding. There’s been a significant increase in the number of boycotts imposed on Israel by companies, institutions, trade unions and consumer groups. Company boards of directors are severing business ties with Israeli firms that have any operations whatsoever in the territories, and investment funds are canceling deals. In academia, too, the boycott is expanding, and European parliaments are recognizing a Palestinian state even before it has been established. We’re steadily approaching the zone of international sanctions, of the kind imposed on apartheid South Africa, but Netanyahu prefers to close his eyes.
He also ignores the two salient examples that prove the connection between peace and the economy. One is the Oslo Accord, signed in September 1993. It created high hopes that were expressed in a sharp increase in international investment in Israel, rapid growth and boom times in every industry. The second, contrasting, example is the second intifada, which pushed Israel into the depths of recession and unemployment.
It’s hard to understand how anyone can even argue that there’s no connection between the lack of desire to resolve our ongoing state of war and the social gaps, the poverty, the cost of living and the low level of infrastructure. It’s like someone hearing on the news that it’s going to rain soon and declaring in an authoritative voice that there’s no connection between seasonably appropriate levels of rain and the growth of fruits and vegetables. What Netanyahu wants us to believe is the political equivalent of the assertion that rain is detrimental to agriculture.
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