Covid-19 and the economy first – politics later

The US and Israel have a very narrow July-August window to put their house in order before the fall season sets in. The dramatic increase in Covid-19 cases in the US and Israel during June, when both countries tried to open the economy, clearly shows the failure in understanding the ways this virus works and how to fight it, both at the level of the policy makers and within the general public.

In the US, states like Arizona, Texas and Florida have become the new red spots of the virus transmission. The problem does not concentrate only in the Republican-led states. The virus is rapidly spreading also in the state of California, the 5th largest economy in the world, where a Democratic governor and legislature and a clear Democratic majority within the general public could have managed to do better if they only knew how to do it.

Israel fared much better in the initial phase, during the months of March-May, avoiding the horrors experienced in cities like New York. However, in the latest weeks – when Israel tried to open the economy – the number of new COVID-19 cases spiraled out of control. Adjusting for the total population difference, several hundred new daily cases in Israel are becoming statistically close to the tens of thousands new daily cases in the US.

In the absence of a clear trend of virus spread containment and economic recovery, neither the US nor Israel are in a position to strongly lead in the international arena. This includes President Trump’s peace initiative to solve the Palestinian-Israeli problem. The problem is compounded by the lack of unity within the Israeli government regarding the practical response to this initiative. Both Netanyahu and Gantz support this initiative. However, presenting four possible and wildly different maps to the US administration – as the Israeli government reportedly lately did – is lamentable: Israel should not ask the US to decide for it in a matter so critical to the future of Israel. As Secretary of State Mike Pompeo politely hinted, it is up to Israel to decide what it wants.

The summer months should be better used by Israel to quietly prepare and come with a detailed and unified response to the US peace initiative. Frankly speaking, from the point of view of the political calendar in the US, which is set by the November 2020 presidential election, sleepy-July is an awkward time for any political stands and declarations that could influence the US elections: September, after Labor Day, is the right time.

About the Author
Jaime Kardontchik has a PhD in Physics from the Technion, Israel Institute of Technology. He lives in the Silicon Valley, California.
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