A tale of two countries

The first has a thriving economy, is liberal and tolerant, democratic and mostly inclusive. The second remains a democracy, but is peevish, intolerant.

Avigdor Lieberman 521 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozlimski)
Avigdor Lieberman 521
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozlimski)
Even as the peace process fades from view, like a ship sailing off into the horizon (or perhaps just plain sinking), the country seems to have found its own two-state solution.
The first state has a thriving economy – one that shrugged off the global recession through good policies, a strong base of human capital and competitive industries. It engages in cutting- edge research and development, and is liberal and tolerant, democratic and mostly inclusive. It’s welcomed into the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, plays an outsized role in European science projects and draws billions of dollars in foreign investment every year. This country’s capital is Tel Aviv, its leader is Stanley Fischer and its Eurovision entry would be Dana International performing “The Possible Dream.”
The second state is surrounded by hostile neighbors and threatened by war. It can’t find a way to make peace with the Palestinians. It is peevish and intolerant. Finding itself isolated from the world community, it is gradually sinking into hyper-nationalist paranoia and self-righteousness. It remains a democracy, but it seems intent on striking out at the democratic values that have enabled it to survive against the odds and even thrive.
The second state’s capital is Jerusalem, its leader is Avigdor Lieberman and it isn’t sending anyone to Eurovision because the Europeans should keep their noses out of its music.
Together, these two states have an economy that is on its way toward a ninth straight year of uninterrupted growth. They have attracted some $40 billion in direct foreign investment over the past five years. They are about to enjoy a huge windfall from natural gas. But these two states also face deadly threats – some immediate, like Lebanon and Gaza, and others more distant, like Iran – that will almost certainly strike at their cities. The deadlocked peace talks and increasingly frequent incidents like the Mavi Marmara have soured the world on them.
THE PEACE and security and the global engagement that are the lifeblood of the first state are being jeopardized by the politics of the second. Yet, as much as the first state seems intent on ignoring the second, the two are inseparable. Jerusalem can’t erect a separation barrier between itself and Tel Aviv. Tel Aviv can’t disengage from Jerusalem. Indeed, many of their citizens in effect hold dual citizenship.
Here is a day in the life of the typical two-state man. He works for a hi-tech start-up that sells nearly all of its products abroad. His business outsources work around the world and has partnerships with industry leaders in America and Asia. In the evening, as he drives to a concert of a visiting pop star, he dreams of the day when his company is bought out by a foreign multinational. But when the Truman Institute calls him the next night for his views on current politics, he offers a cacophony of contradictory opinions, like the polls taken in October and December, which showed two-thirds of Israelis favor a two state-solution and 80 percent support negotiations, yet close to half oppose dismantling settlements.
The two-state man regards the land grabs and skirting of the law in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, and the racism of certain rabbis, as the problems of the second state that have no bearing on the life or business of the first. The missile threat facing his city neither moves him to reconsider buying a more expensive home nor to question the government’s wisdom on security matters.
Indeed, Binyamin Netanyahu could be that man himself. Last month he declared his goal of making Israel one of the world’s 15 wealthiest nations and has spoken often about building its knowledge economy into a disciplined, efficient and integral part of the global economy. Somewhat less believably, he even talks about two states and peace with the Palestinians.
Yet the same man presides over a cabinet dominated by forces that represent everything that stands against these goals. Lieberman & Co. stand for the same political and legal ethos that has kept Russia a Third World country. Eli Yishai and friends are enemies of secular education, of rational thinking and, increasingly, of productive labor. Both are guided by paranoia and xenophobia. Their fights are only about which kind best serves Israel.
How does Netanyahu expect a country of loyalty oaths and landlords who will rent only to Jews to succeed in integrating Arabs, an increasingly important segment of the population, into its hi-tech economy? How does he believe that politicized investigations, like the witch-hunt against left-wing NGOs, will sustain an atmosphere of free and critical thinking that knowledge economies requires? How does ignoring and insulting America and its other friends ensure that Israel remains in the global economy? The writer is executive business editor at The Media Line. His book Israel: The Knowledge Economy and Its Costs will be published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2012.