July 15, 2015
In a recent article in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz under the headline “Israel is turning into Greece” (8 July), Akiva Eldar, a well-known journalist and writer, compared Israel with Greece.
The economic situation in Israel is of course not at the brink of default with closed banks as in Greece. Israel’s finances are in order, the economy is growing and unemployment is relatively low. Things could however become worse also in Israel if the country would be subject to a trade boycott as mentioned in a recent report by the Israeli Finance Ministry.
What worried Eldar is the “populistic” referendum on 5 July in Greece when a resounding majority voted against the austerity policy imposed by the creditors. According to Eldar, the same “stench of populism” would be felt in Israel if there would be a referendum on territorial concessions in return for peace.
How a referendum on a crucial issue for a country’s future – economic in Greece and political in Israel – can be described as “populism” is difficult to understand. On the contrary, a referendum is a true expression of democracy. Israeli member of Knesset Dov Khenin wrote in another article relating to Greece (15 July):
“What’s the alternative to the system that is threatening democracy? More democracy.”
The Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras was brave to reject the creditors’ ultimatum and announce the referendum. In his speech on July 8 in the European Parliament he went one step further. He did not accuse “evil foreigners” to be responsible for his country’s woes.
Instead he admitted that “Greece is on the verge of bankruptcy because the previous Greek governments created a clientelistic state for many years, they supported corruption, they tolerated or even supported the interdependence between politics and the economic elite, and tax evasion on vast amounts of wealth was left unchecked.”
When it comes to the link between political and economic elites Israel is not much different than Greece. The issue of natural gas is a good example. The natural gas found in Israel’s territorial water is managed by an American-Israeli consortium under monopoly conditions.
Until now the government has not done enough to renegotiate the conditions to ensure a lower price for Israeli consumers. A crucial decision will be taken in the near future. It is of paramount importance that it will be transparent and reflect good governance in the oil – and natural gas industry.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has a habit of accusing foreign powers for Israel’s political woes. For a change, what about reconsidering those policies that have been proven to be counter-productive and a cause of Israel’s growing international isolation?
Until recently Israeli legislation did not provide for holding referendums. That was changed last year when a Basic law was amended to include a requirement of a referendum on any withdrawals from Golan and East Jerusalem. What about the West Bank?
Currently the government refuses to make any progress in the peace process and negotiate a two-state solution under the pretext that the timing is not correct because a Palestinian state would be taken over by ISIS. Is there any other realistic solution to the conflict? And will ISIS not be defeated soon?
The Palestinians who have been waiting so long time for independence and democracy deserve to have their own state. They will hardly endanger their state by allowing ISIS to take over and abolish everything they have been fighting for.
We can only wish that Netanyahu will have the same courage as Tsipras to announce a referendum. As he stated last year: “A referendum is the only way to preserve peace among ourselves”.
The Israeli people should be asked a simple question: Should Israel continue the occupation of Palestinian territories or negotiate a mutually acceptable two-state solution to the conflict subject to robust security arrangements?
If the polls are correct, a majority of the Israelis still favors such a solution. If more people are settling in the territories, that will change. For the time being Eldar has nothing to fear. What we should fear is the cementation of the current unsustainable situation.m.apelblat