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French Version

An Israeli economy obsessed with security is an Israeli economy doomed

Both Likud and Labor have failed thus far to consider the full import of their economic decisions, pushing forward an astronomical military price in exchange for civil development.

JORDAN (Star) - Three weeks ago Egypt celebrated the 20th anniversary of the liberation of the Sinai Peninsula from Israeli occupation. Israelis commemorated the occasion as well in their own way; weeping over what might have been.
This year's anniversary revived memories of that time, when the repercussions of an Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty were still reverberating throughout the Middle East.

Israel's Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, then acting as defense minister, was aligned with other hawkish Israeli politicians in their derision of the Israeli government's decision to sign on to the Camp David peace treaty, signed between Israel and Egypt in Washington in 1979.

Then Prime Minister Menachem Begin was fully aware of the political and economic consequences of his decision to turn back Egyptian territory to its legitimate heirs.

Though Sharon was one of Begin's strongest allies, he would not let the Egyptian affair pass that easily, pushing on Lebanon until war broke out and then occupying half of it.

This issue is made all the more relevant today when examining the policies Sharon has been pursuing against the Palestinians over the last year and a half. When Begin accepted peace with Egypt it cost his maturing economy some $16 million for the dismantlement of Jewish settlements and army camps in the Sinai. Today the Israeli economy has lost more than $15 billion in less than two years. It is the first time in Israel's history to suffer such a blow-all this to satisfy Sharon's thirst for Palestinian blood.

In April of 1982 the Israelis had not lost a single life. As of today Israel has lost more than 550 people throughout the course of the 20-month-old Palestinian Al Aqsa Intifada. That figure is sure to rise as Sharon readies his troops for a dance in the Gaza Strip.

Recent statistics indicate the Israeli economy has entered the deepest recession since its establishment 54 years ago. Sharon is not ignorant to this. Official statements put unemployment as high as 5 percent, this in a nation of 6 million. Unofficial statistics suggest the rate sits closer to 10 percent-taking into consideration the influx of Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet republics.

Comparing Israel's past with its present reveals a great deal about the mentality of the current Israeli leadership when dealing with the economy. Former PM Begin advanced from the Likud Party, the same as Sharon, and seemed to transfer a similar economic ignorance to him.

But the Labor Party is not immune to this economic obstinacy. Labor's Shimon Peres was in opposition to Begin in 1982, but stood behind him for the so-called "Israeli security" supposed to be secured by the war in Lebanon.

Both Likud and Labor have failed thus far to consider the full import of their economic decisions, pushing forward an astronomical military price in exchange for civil development.

Israel's currency, the shekel, has seen its value plummet, all for sake of the cause-continuing atrocities designed to yield the elusive concept of Israeli security. In April the shekel lost 11 percent of its value against the US dollar, resulting in an exchange of five shekels for every dollar. Twenty years ago withdrawal from the Sinai didn't affect the shekel nearly as severely.

Consider as well the 1.2 million Israelis living in poverty, 25 percent of whom are children, and it becomes clear the past and present Israeli leadership is not focusing on maintaining a country, but on fighting a low-grade war with their Arab neighbors. Over all these years the names have changed, a bit, but the policies have remained the same. These policies, this paranoia, are sure to be the nation's undoing as much as any resistance from the outside. The only way out is for Sharon to recognize the undisputed facts and withdraw from all the Palestinian territories his hard-line predecessors occupied in the 1967 war. He will have to do this in direct opposition to legislation these men pushed through.

In 1982 Begin proposed a law to the Israeli Knesset (parliament) forbidding the dismantling of any Jewish settlement in the West Bank and Gaza. That type of mentality is why 20 years later Israel sits in the current economic and military mess.

Today, each of those expanding 220 Jewish settlements in the Occupied Territories is costing Israel $5 million per month. This despite the fact that over 65 percent of Israelis believe the Jewish settlements are worthless. Even the Jewish settlers realize this fact, yet none appears ready to make the change.

Sharon is indecisive when it comes to economics. He appears to believe once his security issues are solved the economy will return. At the present rate it will take decades for that recovery, and that's assuming this mythical idea of security is ever realized-something that seems less and less likely as Israeli military policies become more and more brutal.

Sharon's presence in 1982 until today suggests some of his policies are based in a twisted sense of pride, not logic, when he promotes ever more expenditure and watches his nation fall ever deeper into recession. Security is not the answer for the Israeli economy. Peace is.

Ghassan Joha
The Star

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