1996 has been a very turbulent year for Israel. This lies in the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin on November 4, 1995. Rabin's great work in the peace process with it's Arab neighbors has been nearly reversed by Israel's newly elected Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who actively opposed the peace process in the election. Netanyahu's term of service has not only affected Israel politically but also socially, intellectually, religiously, and economically.
In dealing with Yasser Arafat and the Palestinians Netanyahu was originally quoted saying that he would only meet with Arafat under special circumstances and that, "the era of one-sided giving was over." Warren Christopher, Secretary of State for the U.S., was able to arrange a peace conference with Arafat on the Gaza border. One article called it a , "Psychological breakthrough" (Netanyahu meets with Clinton). The issues at hand were Israel fulfilling it's pledge to the Palestinians to redeploy it's troops stationed in the West Bank town of Hebron so that they will only guard the 440 Jews who live there, from the tens of thousands of Palestinians. Also at issue were the exit permits given to Palestinians allowing them to go from there jobs in Israel to there homes in Gaza and the and the West Bank. That leads to another issue over whether or not a rail link between Gaza and the West Bank should be formed. The major problem with that would be the cost. In the next round of Israeli-PLO peace talks, both sides could not reach a compromise and after four hours talks failed. To complicate matters further 3,000 houses were approved to be built in the West Bank by the Israeli government. "Peace Now spokesman", Alon Arnon, called the housing, "A final burial of the hope of peace." (West Bank Settlement Approved) Netanyahu also ended the month by opening a tunnel to Muslim and Jewish Holy sites that resulted in bloody riots that killed 76 people.
The month of October cooled down a bit with an ice breaking summit in Washington. Netanyahu returned with a change in attitude calling Arafat a person whom he could resolve problems with. But aside from his change in demeanor no substantial agreements were made.
In November Israel went on high alert in fear of an attack planned to disrupt the peace process, possibly on the one year anniversary of the Jihad's leader Fathi Shakaki. Again the peace effort was thrown back when the Israeli government announced plans to double the number of Jewish settlers in the West Bank. At one point Netanyahu asked the U.S. and Germany to help use their influence in Iran and Syria to hold the terrorists at bay. Arafat also grew tired of what he considered to be stalling on the part of the Israeli government. He called for plans already agreed to, to be put in motion. Netanyahu then makes a statement that he envisions, "A Palestinian entity with broad power," but fell short of declaring full independence. One article called this a sign that Netanyahu was, "moving towards the Israeli political center."(Netanyahu Mulls Palestine Land) Towards the end of November peace talks tookplace about the redeployment of troops in Hebron. The main issue that stalled the talks was Israel's insistence on written agreements that Israeli troops could chase Palestinian suspects into the city.
In December, peace talks continued and as of now a decision was on the verge of being reached once final details were worked out. On January 1, 1997 a Jewish military officer, believed to be mentally disturbed ,walked into a Palestinian market and opened fire. Waving after being arrested he said, "Hebron, always and forever."
Israel also had some serious problems with it's Arab neighboring countries. In September Israeli forces launched air and ground attacks to counter Lebanese guerrillas who had ambushed an Israeli patrol. The guerrillas are part of Hezbollah, or party of god. Shortly after the attack Lebanon moved 300 commandos to the southern border to, as a Lebanese statement says, "cope with any Israeli venture in the region." Both Israel and Lebanon are under investigation to find if they had broken any cease-fire agreements.
Jordan, Israel's closest Arab ally issued a blunt statement to Israel declaring, "Anything can happen if peace is not achieved."(Rift widening quickly between Israel and Jordan) Hussein attended a luncheon with Netanyahu, Clinton, and Arafat saying, "What you need sir, is not the arrogance of power but the vision that Rabin had... Maybe one day you will have it."
Israeli-Syrian relations also were greatly strained. Syrian peace talks have been greatly strained since the May terrorist attacks. As a precondition for opening up peace talks Syria is demanding the Golan Heights, an area of tremendous strategic value and Israel's only ski resort, to be given back to them. In September, Syria pressured Israel by moving troops closer to Israel along the Lebanon border. But eventually both sides withdrew. As of now both sides are at a stand still while Netanyahu continues to approve housing for the Golan Heights.
The increase of Jewish settlements also angered Egypt another of Israel's allies in the Arab world. The West Bank housing will, said an Egyptian official, "Destroy trust between Israel and it's Arab neighbors."
Socially Israel has it's share of problems. In November an Israeli lawmaker who advocated a crackdown on violence against women was "under the spotlight" for allegedly beating his own wife. Haim Dayan was once talking about wife abusers and said, "I would slice their hands to pieces so that would be the last time they ever raised their hand to a women."(Israeli Lawmaker under spotlight) The women's rights group, Naamat, estimates that one in every four women are or will be assaulted by their partners. The reason for this says Naamat spokeswomen, Carmel is, "The level of violence and anger is very high ...and it's influences the family situation. Another Israeli agreed, "Israelis still live by the sword"
Violence is also frequently seen in the Israeli abuse towards Palestinians. In November two Israeli border guards were arrested after being video taped beating and kicking six Palestinian laborers. Israeli and Palestinian human rights activists claim that such beatings happen all the time and are designed to instill fear in Palestinians so that they will not try to get into Israel illegally. In response Yasser Arafat said he would distribute video cameras to Palestinians living near the checkpoints to monitor further violence.
Another trend with Israel socially is the ever growing flow of foreigners into Israel from Europe, Asia, Africa, and South America. The foreigners complain of discrimination and abuse from employers who pay low wages and house them in rat infested hotels. The Labor Ministry estimates that there are 300,000 foreign workers in Israel and two thirds of them have overstayed visas and are there illegally. One immigrant commented on the abuse saying, "Society tolerates it because these people are not Jews."
On the lighter side there has been a dramatic increase in the UFO sightings over the Israeli skies. Skeptics say, "Israelis are simply being swept away by the U.S. pop culture." The movie Independence day and the series X-Files are big hits in Israel. A recent Israeli pole finds that one in every two people believe in Aliens.
Intellectually there has been little change in Israel. One Palestine city was connected to the internet in November. When a West Bank University tried to lease dedicated lines to be hooked up to the university it got the run-around from Israel, so it turned to a new technology developed in Israel, wireless microwave communications. The technology's founder says he estimates to have 3,000 clients a year from now hooked up to the internet.
Religiously there has been many developments in Israel. On September 22 Israel marked a day of atonement, Yom Kippur. Yasser Arafat called Netanyahu to wish him a happy New Year. On Christmas eve thousands of pilgrims filled Bethlehem's 1,600 year old church to celebrate Christmas. At the mass's sermon the priest criticized Israel's rough treatment of Palestinians and religious leaders on both sides that foster extremism.
Economically Israel has suffered under Netanyahu's hard-line attitude. Some cold facts include:
Exports rose only 4 percent(a third of the recent average increase)
Tourism is down 10 percent
Unemployment rose with Israel's high tech industry reporting losses.
The GNP spent on the military, currently a 10th is now rising.
Netanyahu argued that these problems are inherited but experts cite rising Arab-Israeli conflict scaring away foreign investment. Koor Industries, Israel's largest industrial company reported their third quarter losses at ten percent. The cause for the loss CEO, Benjamin Gaon, says is Israel's high interest rates and the shekels rise against the U.S. dollar.
Towards the end of December Israel, in an attempt to lower the 300 million a month deficit by raising taxes. This, experts claim is a result of Israel's economic slowdown. Jacob Frenkel, the governor of the bank of Israel says that the government should try to focus more on reducing the government spending(50% of the GNP) than raising taxes. Either way Netanyahu has a tough road ahead of him to try to keep down inflation and taxes while still trying to reduce Israeli's debt.
Under Netanyahu Israel has seen rough times in all aspects. Netanyahu's slow change towards the political center will better serve Israel, but is it going to be in time? Netanyahu's continued West Bank Housing projects keep infuriating the Arab world. In Israel's future I see more bloodshed but hope still exists for the peace that Prime Minister Rabin had hoped for before his assassination. Politically I see peace on the horizon with Arafat and the PLO but see future conflicts with Syria over the Golan Heights. There will be renewed terrorist attacks with the Israeli pullout from Hebron because political extremists will not be settled until they obtain all of what they want. The middle east is one of the most volatile regions in the world so no one knows for sure what awaits it.
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