A vehicle for a bumpy road

The economy, not our politicians, is the sure thing Israelis can depend on.

Olmert Bibi 298 ap (photo credit: )
Olmert Bibi 298 ap
(photo credit: )
My father, a former car dealer, gave me some good advice about automobiles: "Most people want to buy a new car. It's comfortable, it makes them feel good and they expect a lot from it. I, however, recommend buying a good used car. Sure it's been around the block, but - chosen properly - it is likely to serve you well." That memory crossed my mind when the Winograd Commission, appointed to investigate the events of the Lebanon War, announced that in the second half of April it would publish an interim report which would include what it called "personal recommendations." We were given to understand from the announcement that these recommendations would relate primarily to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Amir Peretz and Dan Halutz, the former IDF chief of staff. Over the past few months, the Winograd Commission has held dozens of meetings in which it studied the second Lebanon War. The commission focused mainly on the first five days of the war, although it suggested that its final report might also relate to how Israeli society should address the larger defense challenges it faces. One can assume that the three people who led Israel into Lebanon in the summer of 2006 will find themselves subject to heavy criticism, and it is possible that the prime minister and minister of defense will be under pressure to resign. The latter is currently running in the Labor Party primaries and the forecast is not in his favor, while Olmert is likely to find himself in a situation in which he has little room for maneuver. A state of confusion prevents the government from making the decisions necessary to run the country. The fact is that since last summer, the coalition has been stable, but crisis and turmoil have made it hard to get much done. The situation is particularly unwelcome because Israel is confronting two challenges in the security arena. The first involves the painful process of drawing conclusions from the Second Lebanon War. The other is the Iranian nuclear threat, which is one of the most dangerous threats Israel has ever faced in its history, if not the most dangerous. WHEN I said at the outset that it's sometimes best to go with a used car - but one in good condition - I was referring to the state of Israel's economy. An recent economic report sang the praises of the economy and its captains. This year's 5.1% growth in Israel's gross national product was the highest among developed countries, and exceeded forecasts. The per-capita growth rate has also increased. Israelis buy more, and enjoy themselves more. Furthermore, Israel's export rate is 5% higher than its import rate. For the third year in a row, Israel has exported more than it has imported which bolsters Israeli economic independence. Israel's economic success story is well-known in the world. Foreign investments in Israel are an ongoing feature and have brought a decline in the value of the shekel. Warren Buffet recently invested close to $5 million - and that's just one of many big deals. Israel's hi-tech industry continues to generate interest and our start-ups are being bought regularly by international companies. All this while Israel is involved in a difficult war and faces constant unexpected social developments. It is becoming increasingly clear that the Israeli economy has become the real backbone of the State of Israel. It enables the politicians to wage their political wars, just as it enabled the IDF to end the second Lebanon war with achievements, even though they did not live up to the nation's expectations. That is the Israeli economy's great accomplishment. So think of Israel as a used car that's in good condition. We're in for a bumpy ride - the Winograd Report is likely to be shocking to the system - but we must have faith that the car, which has gone through so much, will manage to overcome this hurdle, too. The writer is senior vice-president and director-general of United Jewish Communities' Israel Office.