Hebrew University Political Science professor Ira Sharkansky evaluates the latest happenings in Israel.
Fri,Dec 13,2013 10 Tevet 5774
The US economy and Gaza may sound like distinct issues, except that they are both high on my worry list.
Two newspaper articles make the crucial points, even though one deals exclusively with the US economy and the other with Gaza, and neither mentions the other.
One, in the Washington Post, puts the White House-Congress controversies over the budget and debt limit in the larger context of declining economic growth--and maybe overall decline--in the United States.
The other, in The Guardian, describes the increasing misery of Gaza under the combined escalation of Egyptian activity against Islamic extremists, which includes major action against Gaza's southern border, and Israel's control over its northern border. It describes large increases in prices, an escalation in unemployment that was already high, and border closures that keep Gazans from traveling for medical care, business, education, or family reunions, as well as preventing the entry of those wanting to come home.but stuck on the Egyptian side of the border.
The item in the Washington Post should remind me and my age peers how fortunate we were to be born in the last years of the 1930s. We missed any personal memory of the Great Depression, and entered the workforce just as the war-babies were making serious demands on the economy.
Those of us who chose higher education for a career found ourselves fending off anxious employers when countries were opening new colleges and universities.. There weren't too many of us depression babies to serve the war babies, so we got jobs and salary increases with an ease that the current generation of young lecturers can only dream about. They find themselves competing with one another over a stable number of students, at a time when there are no mandatory retirements to force my age peers to make room for newcomers.
Back in the old days, a beginning lecturer's salary was enough to put a down payment on a house, and to allow a spouse to stay home with the kids. Now the salaries of young lecturers fortunate enough to find work are much larger in absolute terms, but less able to support the life style that we enjoyed a half century ago.
The decline in growth apparent in the US is less clear in Israel, thanks in part to the infusion of a million people two decades ago from the former Soviet Union. Their children are among the Israelis providing the current economic spurt in various fields of high tech, as well as supplying their share of young couples in the market for better housing than had satisfied their parents.
No doubt some of Washington's squabbles over the budget and debt reflects inter-party nastiness as well as ideologues of left vs right.
However, the Washington Post writer makes a valid point in seeing some of it as structural, and therefore not likely to go away when the current impasse has left the headlines. If the US economy becomes chronically unstable and/or stagnant, uncertainty and maybe worse will spread elsewhere.
" . . . slow growth is more than scare talk. When adjusted for population increases, it reduces per capita income gains to . . . be small enough to be skimmed off by rising taxes, higher health-insurance premiums .. . .What looms — it’s already occurred in Europe — is a more contentious future. Economic growth serves as social glue that neutralizes other differences. Without it, economic and political competition becomes a game of musical chairs, where one person’s gain is another’s loss, There’s a breakdown of trust, as expectations are continually disappointed. It’s an often-ugly process that is convincingly confirmed by Washington’s current political firestorm..”
If anyone reading knows how to ask for help in Chinese, this may be the time to teach the rest of us.
The downturn in Gaza's fortunes does not generate a great deal of Israeli sympathy, but is a source of concern. The depths of misery may make more of Gaza's young people even more intense in their concern to hurt us, if only because they have nothing else to do.
The tunnel that the IDF discovered under nearly a mile of Israel demonstrates several features of the Gazan existence. That it is one of more than 800 tunnels testifies to enforced isolation.
Digging and maintaining the tunnels, most of which have been used to import good and move people to and from Egypt, has been a major source of employment despite the obvious dangers.
The Hamas government has gotten a major part of its revenue by taxing the imports coming through those tunnels. Now that Egypt has destroyed or blocked many of them, gone is the work of those hauling goods, the revenue of Hamas, the profits of the merchants who sold the imported goods, and the comforts of Gazans who bought the cars, food, and other consumer goods that came through the tunnels.
Israel initially responded to the Egyptian crackdown, especially its destruction of tunnels used for smuggling with increased shipments of food, fuel, consumer goods and building supplies. However, that changed with the discovery of a sophisticated tunnel going into Israel, several meters under the earth, protected by concrete walls and ceiling, and meant for aggression rather than commerce.
What comes next may be increased pressure on Hamas internally due to greater hardships, as well as increased enmity against Israel and Egypt.
The outlet of pressure may be attacks against Israeli and Egyptian targets organized by Hamas or its competitors among Islamists. There may also be may be striking out by frustrated individuals, operating on their own or with ad hoc groups of friends and relatives..
If Gazan rage is directed against the currently more aggressive Egyptians, we can count on a more fierce response than likely from Israeli.
Those wondering about the basis of such an estimate should think back to how the two armies have dealt with African migrants in the Sinai. Israeli soldiers arrest them, perhaps also while providing water. The simpler Egyptian response is to shoot them.
Israel aspires to live at peace alongside Gaza, but this may prove impossible given the competition between its various Islamic groups, each seeking to demonstrate that it is the more forceful with respect to Islamic or Palestinian rights. While Hamas may recognize that its own future depends on an accommodation with Israel, its investment in tunnels under Israel and continued amassing of missiles and other weaponry suggests that another confrontation will come sooner or later.
It is not inconceivable that Hamas or some other Islamic faction in Gaza will provoke the Egyptians and Israelis at the same time, resulting in attacks on that little place from all sides.
You might call this the structural irony in dealing with terror that comes out of ideological or religious fanaticism. As Israel and Egypt seek to limit it by economic or military efforts, they will also stimulate some of those made to suffer--or their comrades and relatives--to greater intensity.
The likelihood of Israeli and Egyptian cooperation--a matter that remains quiet expect for occasional reports of trips to Cairo by high ranking security personnel--and the prospect of greater cooperation against trouble spots in Gaza and the Sinai is associated with profound Israeli disappointment in the Obama administration. The Cairo speech of 2009 and the abandonment of Mubarak still rankle among those who see the American President as somewhere between innocent and ignorant in his views of the Middle East, now renewed by the recent cutting of American aid due to Egypt's rough treatment of the Muslim Brotherhood and its failings on American measures of democracy.
Competition between the various Palestinian factions often takes the form of bloodshed among themselves or among Israelis, but also serves some of Israel's interests, or more correctly the interests of some Israelis. The competition among Palestinians hardens the posture of Fatah's representatives in negotiations with Israel. If seen to be giving up key Palestinian or Muslim interests, Fatah would have trouble throughout the Middle East, Palestinian intransigence helps Israelis not trusting the Palestinians, as well as those reluctant to give up any more of the West Bank, or to sign over complete control of the Temple Mount.
Before long we should expect to hear from the Americans about Israeli stubbornness, which will factor into whatever develops in an increasingly stressed Gaza, along with what happens on that other mutual front, concerned with Iran.
Perhaps some readers can suggest how to contain terror without reinforcing it, as well as setting up a course in the White House about Middle Eastern realities. Getting the US economy to grow faster would also help, but that is no less elusive than reforming the Middle East.