Special Report

Passover 2008: Israel’s Prospects

We're commanded this week to take heart and be merry.

By 4.24.08

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This Passover week, supposed to be a time of celebration of freedom in the Land of Israel, it's hard to be cheerful in light of Israel's grim security situation.

Hamas, from its Gaza enclave created by Israel's boorish "disengagement" in 2005, mounts daily brazen attacks while the Olmert government still restrains the Israeli army from reacting effectively. Hizballah, in the aftermath of that same government's botched war against it in Lebanon in 2006, has rearmed to levels far beyond what it had before the war. Syria keeps rattling its saber and in the background is Iran, its accelerating march to nuclearization a dire testimony to Western fecklessness and inability to cope with threats until it could well be too late.

Nevertheless, we're commanded this week to take heart and be merry, and within Israeli society itself there are indeed developments that sow optimism.

1. The Left is shrinking. Though the hard Left in Israel has never been that large, during the 1990s it infiltrated and meshed with certain longings of the mainstream and became dominant for a time. It left a legacy of blood and increased danger that most Israelis -- after the Oslo terror and the Lebanon-withdrawal and Gaza-disengagement debacles -- now see for what it is.

Meretz, the political party associated with extreme dovishness, now has all of 5 seats in the 120-seat Knesset and is expected to fare even worse -- possibly disappearing -- in the next elections. Peace Now, the extraparliamentary movement that did much to energize the Oslo appeasement fever and in the 1990s could draw as many a hundred thousand to its demonstrations, has declined drastically in membership and its recent thirtieth-anniversary rally in Tel Aviv drew only hundreds.

It's true that the idea once associated only with the far Left in Israel -- a fully sovereign Palestinian state breathing down Israel's neck -- is still touted by some leading members of the supposedly centrist Olmert government, including Olmert himself. All recent polls, though, show a majority of Israelis ready to vote instead for a conservative Likud-led coalition.

2. The settlements are growing. Controversial though they may be, the Israeli settlements in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) are the best guarantee that present or future Israeli governments will not make further disastrous concessions that would bring the peril to the outskirts of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Though recent governments have yielded to U.S. pressure and sedulously avoided building new communities, growth in the existing settlements continues and the total settler population is now approaching 300,000, including towns that number over 30,000 in themselves. The presence of Israelis in Judea and Samaria does not ruin the chances of eventually resolving the political status of the Palestinian Arabs who live there; it increases the chances of eventually finding a fair solution that would not negate either Israel's security needs or the special Jewish connection to these lands.

3. Economic freedom is growing. On the Heritage Foundation's "Index of Economic Freedom" for 2008 Israel comes in a lackluster 46th, a little ahead of France, behind Oman, Georgia, and Botswana. Yet while Israel still has a long way to go in freeing itself from the bondage of its socialist past, in recent years particularly it has made impressive progress. Even much of the left-wing establishment now acknowledges the pivotal achievements of Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu's 2003-2005 stint as finance minister; they included tax cuts, privatizing industries, high growth, fiscal discipline, the beginnings of bank reform, and getting many people from the welfare rolls into the job market.

Although the Olmert government has added nothing to Netanyahu's reforms in terms of innovation or energy, it at least hasn't substantially detracted from them and is basically coasting on their momentum, with growth remaining high and inflation, low. Even more important is that on the cognitive level, thanks largely to Netanyahu's influence, "privatization" and "capitalism" are no longer dirty words in Israel as more and more people come to understand what makes successful economies tick.

4. Israelis still understand the security reality. A couple of recent, widely quoted opinion surveys indicate that, as already alluded to, the bulk of the Israeli population has withstood the onslaught of left-wing media bias and still takes realistic positions on security issues. A poll this month by Tel Aviv University found 55% of Israeli Jews defining Judea and Samaria as "liberated territory" and only 32% calling them "occupied territory," with 75% saying negotiations with the Palestinians will not produce an agreement and the exact same proportion saying that, even if they do, the Palestinians will not see it as the end of the conflict. This is the more impressive as the Israeli mainstream media only reports meagerly on the severe demonization of Israel in Palestinian society.

And a poll, also this month, by Bar-Ilan University found 61% of Israelis rejecting the idea of negotiating a division of Jerusalem with the Palestinians and 69% saying that even after such a deal the Palestinian terror attacks would continue.

So a shrinking Left, growing settlements, a growing economy, and a tenacious realism that is welded to basic Jewish values -- all these augur well for Israel this Passover. HISH (Hizballah-Iran-Syria-Hamas) has different plans and until they're dealt with effectively the basic issue remains survival.

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About the Author

P. David Hornik is a writer and translator in Beersheva, Israel, blogging at PDavidHornik.typepad.com.