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Ira Sharkansky


Cynicism greets Netanyahu's
resignation and timing,  August 10, 2005

By Ira Sharkansky
There have not been many Israeli politicians more articulate than Benyamin (Bibi) Netanyahu, in Hebrew or English. He was a fine ambassador to the United Nations, and an impressive minister of finance. In that position his ideology in behalf of free enterprise, along with his powers of expression and persuasion, led him to a series of reforms widely described as among the most far reaching in the country's history. To be sure, he proposed steps greater than he achieved. He urged drastic cuts in social programs, and sharp changes in enterprises that were state-owned. He had to compromise in the face of strong opposition from labor unions and colleagues in the government. Nonetheless, there was a lot remaining after he finished compromising. The economy is less encumbered by overly generous entitlement programs and overstaffed enterprises left over from the heydays of Israeli socialism.
One can quarrel with the credit that Netanyahu claims for his reforms. He has applauded every tick upward in GNP and every tick downward in unemployment as his work, when much of it has been due to improvements in the international economy. Israel depends heavily on foreign trade and investment from overseas, so not all (or perhaps even most) short term improvements in the national economy are due to decisions taken locally.
Sunday afternoon Netanyahu announced his resignation as Finance Minister. He did it 30 minutes before the close of trading on the Tel Aviv stock exchange. The leading indices dropped by 5 percent.
Netanyahu again claimed credit for economic progress. Thanks to him, Israel will become a world leader in its rate of growth, and rival Hong Kong, Singapore, and Switzerland as economic centers.
The principal reason he gave for resigning was an inability to continue in a government that would withdraw Jewish settlements from Gaza and the northern West Bank. He is convinced that these steps will reward terror. Gaza will turn into a base of Islamic extremism and threaten Israel more than at present. Two days after his resignation, in his first speech to the Knesset, he urged that body to reverse itself and vote down the plan that it has already approved, several times, in different votes.
If he really cared about the economy, wouldn't he have waited 30 minutes before announcing his resignation? Thoughtful firms and even politicians know how to wait until the market closes for the day before delivering news that is likely to roil the numbers. And if he really cared about disengagement, why did he wait so long to resign and urge a reversal in the Knesset? The program has been in the works for 18 months. Implementation is due to begin next week. Some families have already moved. Others are packing. The chance of reversing course is close to zero. The danger to international credibility would be considerable if he really works at it and overcomes the procedural and political hurdles.
A newspaper poll released today indicates that Netanyahu leads Sharon among members of the Likud party eligible to vote in a primary to select the party's candidate for prime minister.
Currently there is no election scheduled, and no party primary about to happen. It is too early to count Netanyahu in and Sharon out. Netanyahu is persuasive when you listen to him one presentation at a time. Those who have followed him over the years are not so easily led.
The television commentator in Ha'aretz ended his review of Netanyahu's farewell speech with the following paragraph:
Not every day does a politician resign from a valued post because of conscience. Nonetheless, Netanhahu's step has been received cooly, with suspicion, and reservations by all commentators, regardless of sex, position, or media outlet. Some will say that this reflects the harshness of Israeli media. The truth is that Netanyahu is reaping the results of his credibility. Although he might believe himself, others do not believe him.
 An economic commentator in the same newspaper wrote an article entitled, "Not a leader. And not prime minister"

One cannot abandon the war in the middle and still talk about growth. One cannot present a far-reaching program as part of the budget, including important reforms and structural changes, and then run away the minute the time comes to implement them.

Anyone who abandons the socioeconomic war in this fashion proves that neither the economy nor society interests him. In other words, the entire public does not interest Netanyahu. The only one who interests Netanyahu is himself. Such a man is unfit to be a leader. And he is certainly unfit to be prime minister.

Sharkansky is a member of the political science department at Hebrew University in Jerusalem