These days of remembering the murder of Yitzhak Rabin are as good an occasion as any to remind all of us what kind of policy changes he lead in 1992 when Labor won 44 seats in the Knesset and formed a left wing government.
The second Rabin government increased the education budget by an unprecedented 70%, enacted the national health insurance law, invested substantial sums in transportation infrastructure, built up academic institutions in the periphery, put colleges under academic guidance, invested heavily in the Arab sector and revolutionized the funding of the local councils. His government also, for the first time in Israel’s history, taxed capital gains.
Where did the money for all the added public expenses come from ? The money was mainly drawn from the defence budget, whose reduction was made possible by a conscious strategic decision to engage in peacemaking. Rabin realized that keeping the defence budget the size it was would not make it possible to provide Israel’s citizens with the services he thought they deserved.
Now, just like then the dilemma will be similar. Any incoming government, if it is a Labor government under Shelly Yacimovich or a Likud-Beiteinu government under Netanyahu will have to chose between guns and butter. But, there is a catch: The present policies which are paradoxically both, confrontational and defensive in nature are hugely expensive to maintain. They are confrontational because no real effort is made to resolve outstanding political and security issues, neither vis-a-vis the Palestinians in the West Bank nor the Palestinians in the Gaza strip. The totally defensive posturing maintained by this government calls for continuing and increasing investment in protective infrastructure to protect citizens in range of enemy missiles and a further expansion of the missile defence efforts which have already reached unreal proportions: Israel is presently protected by more than six different missile systems.
A Likud-Beiteinu government will not be able to square the circle, maintain an uncompromising political position vis-a-vis the Palestinians continue the build-up of costly weapons systems, invest more in protective infrastructure and at the same time keep a reasonable budget for social services. And we haven’t even mentioned Iran yet.
A government led by Shelly Yacimovich will do exactly what Rabin did in 1992 – it will increase public spending to compensate for the many years that the public purse was depleted and many public services were privatized to the detriment of all citizens. It will, by definition, pursue a much more moderate policy vis-a-vis the Palestinians, engage in intensive negotiations to reach an agreement that will replace an untenable status-quo and restart the strategic relations with Turkey after winding down the completely counterproductive blockade of the Gaza strip.
There is no real alternative – to continue increasing social gaps in Israel like a Likud-Israel Beiteinu government is wont to do and at the same time not make serious efforts to settle our conflict with the Palestinians is pure folly. There is absolutely no indication that Netanyahu has learned a lesson that Yitzhak Rabin understood already in 1992. I certainly hope that the public has learned it and will vote him out of office.