As the dollar dipped below the NIS 4 mark, it shattered another forlorn fabrication of the Israeli Left - namely, that in order for Israel to prosper economically, it must concede politically and reach a peace settlement with the Palestinians. However the general indifference the political establishment – on both side of the ideological spectrum – displayed toward this event, served to underline the two major features that characterize Israeli politics:
- The intellectual dishonesty of the Left - which renders it incapable of admitting error; and
- The intellectual disability of the Right - which renders it incapable of exposing and capitalizing on this dishonesty.
Just how disingenuous the Left has been in promoting its political agenda can be gauged from the following examples:
• Initially the Left claimed that Israel should withdraw from the "territories" on the basis of a negotiated settlement "because there is someone to talk to" on the Palestinian side. However, when this proved unfounded, rather than admit error, the Left then insisted that Israel should withdraw unilaterally without negotiation "because there is no one to talk" to on the Palestinian side. So first the existence, and then the non-existence, of a Palestinian negotiating partner were invoked as the rationale for its policy of concession.
• Originally the Left claimed that Israel could afford to relinquish territory, because she was strong enough to contend with the risks involved in giving it up. Later when it was clear that conceding territory did not produce the desired results, rather than admit error, the Left insisted that Israel should continue to relinquish territory because she was not strong enough to contend with the risks involved in retaining it. So first Israel's strength, and then her lack of strength, were invoked as the rationale for its policy of withdrawal.
• Prior to the initiation of the Oslowian "peace process" the Left averred that the terror attacks were the acts of extremists, precipitated by the frustration at the "lack of a peace process." However, after the initiation of the Oslowian "process," when the terror attacks not only continued unabated, but escalated to unprecedented levels, the Left again refrained from admitting error. Instead, it now insisted that the "process" must continue; for now terror attacks were dubbed the acts of extremists, precipitated by a desire to halt the "peace process." So first the extremist anger at that absence of a "peace process", and then extremist anger at its presence, were invoked as the rationale for its policy of appeasement.
'New Middle East' fantasy
However in spite of the manifest bankruptcy of the Left's political prescription, the Right has been totally incapable of exploiting this to its advantage. Quite the opposite. Instead of totally discrediting – indeed delegitimizing – this dangerously dogmatic and deluded doctrine, the Right, inexplicably, began to embrace it. Instead of seizing on the undeniable failure of the Left's policies of territorial withdrawal, instead of making them an object of abject ridicule and consigning them to the historical ignominy, scorn and irrelevance which they so richly deserve, the Right (or at least its elected representatives) began to implement measures that that were even more drastic than those proposed by their left-wing rivals.
So there is little wonder that the Right has been just as remiss in refuting other misleading myths and mendacious mantras which the Left employed to foist its political proclivity on a gullible public, including the now patently preposterous claim that without political agreement, economic prosperity is impossible. This was a powerful theme invoked immediately after the Oslo Accords were signed – and resonated strongly with the general populace, eager to seize the seductive El Dorado-like fantasy of "New Middle East".
The prevailing realities of course make nonsense of the claim. As the prospect of a peace settlement seems more remote than ever, the economic prospects have never been rosier. The GDP per capita (in dollar-terms) rose above $20,000, surpassing the average for the EU and approached $30,000 (in terms of purchasing power parity - PPP); the balance of payments began to show a surplus for the first time in the country's history; inflation is low; the budget deficit is under control; and foreign capital is flowing into the country with investors eager for a stake in the economy, driving the value of the shekel up dramatically against the major currencies of the world. And yet… and nary a "peace process" in sight.
Of course, had the Right shown any signs of intelligent life over the last decade and a half, it could quite easily have dispensed with this enticing but insidious fiction. For it could never withstand the scrutiny of facts. According to Finance Ministry figures, in the "dour" three-year period (1990-92) preceding the 1993 Oslo Accords under the Shamir government, the average GDP growth rate was over 6.6 percent, whereas in the euphoric three-year period (1994-96) the growth rate was barely 6.1 percent.
In fact, if one looks at the decade as a whole, the growth rate of the entire post-Oslo (1994-1999) period was only 4.5 percent, significantly lower than the average for the decade (1990-99) of 5.2 percent and certainly far below the 6.6 percent for the pre-Oslo years (1990-92.) One cannot but wonder why the right-wing leadership did not force-feed the public on the truth and left it (pardon the pun) exposed to the unfounded propaganda of their rivals.
Moreover while it is true that much of the pre-Oslo growth was fueled by the wave of immigrants from the Former Soviet Union, this was equally true (if not more so) for the post-Oslo growth. Also, it should be recalled that much of the growth under the Rabin-Peres administration (1992-1996) with Shochat as finance minister, was artificially fueled by huge budget deficits that began to jeopardize seriously the nation's economic stability by the end of its term.
Thus if we deduct from the post-Oslo growth rates (a) the contribution of the continued immigration and (b) the artificial effect on growth due to the government's excessive budgetary deficit, there seems precious little left to ascribe to the "peace process" as a catalyst for the economy.
By contrast, the present economic success cannot be attributed either to large surges of immigration or budgetary permissiveness. Thus, the fact that it is taking place in conditions in which even the most ardent "peaceniks" are beginning to despair of any prospect of peace, it is especially damning to the thesis that economic prosperity can only be achieved via political settlement.
The Left's obsession for a policy of "Land for Peace" has wrought incalculable damage on the nation, gravely imperiling the State and People of Israel as well as the very ideal of Zionism itself. It has tried to railroad the electorate by promoting its worldview with fanatic zeal and a most "cavalier" attitude towards the truth. For this history will undoubtedly judge it harshly. However the jury is still out on what it will condemn more severely: The inexcusable sins of commission of the Left, or the inexplicable sins of omission of the Right.
Dr Martin Sherman is a political scientist at Tel Aviv University