And Now for the Forecast ……..BLEAK

Gershon Baskin, Ph.D.

A few days before the election of Ariel Sharon in February 2001,  I attempted to “predict” what the future would have in store for us.  I don’t usually take such risks of actually putting down on paper predictions and then sharing them in public, but as an exercise in analysis, I decided to give it a shot.  These were my predictions:

 

Thursday, February 01, 2001

Dear Friends

With events unfolding rapidly, I’ll try to make some predictions, some of them obvious, some very likely, some of them based on political assumptions. I apologize in advance for those of you who are expecting me to provide you with some encouragement and some optimism.  None of that is called for now, so, Sorry.

Prediction #1: Ariel Sharon will be the next Prime Minister of Israel (I said that some of the predictions were obvious).

Prediction #2: Sharon will not succeed in forming a national unity government, although Shimon Peres might be enticed to join the government as Foreign Minister under the “guise” of advancing peace.

Prediction #3: Ehud Barak will be over-thrown as the leader of the Labour Party, the top choices to replace him are Avrum Burg, Haim Ramon, or Shlomo Ben Ami, but knowing the Labour Party, they are likely to search for a compromise candidate who everyone knows is an idiot, someone like Binyamin Ben Eliezer, aka Fouad. They could also fall into the trap of choosing Shimon Peres, but I think that Peres will be serving his last term in the Knesset this time and will retire to the Shimon Peres Center or to some other monument established to honor the “great elder statesman”. Personally, I will celebrate his retirement from politics.

Prediction #4: There will be elections for the Knesset within the next year.  The Sharon government will not last a year.

Prediction #5: Bibi Netanyahu will be the next Prime Minister of Israel after Ariel Sharon (how’s that for depressing?!)

Prediction #6: Sharon’s first major policy initiative will be under the title “A Plan for Strengthening Jerusalem”. In a press conference together with the “great” Mayor of Jerusalem, Ehud Olmert, Prime Minister Sharon will announce that the Government of Israel will be spending millions of dollars to upgrade the infrastructures for the Palestinian neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, all in the name of guaranteeing the unity of Jerusalem. Sharon will also announce a massive building program for Jewish Jerusalem – all over East Jerusalem.  Remember Zoning Plan “E1”.  Barak froze it.  Now it will come out to thaw in Sharon’s settlement micro-wave.  “E1” is a building plan to link East Jerusalem to Ma’aleh Adumim.  Sharon will instruct the building authorities to intensify the amount of Jewish housing to be built there.  Sharon will also instruct that Har Homa “B” be launched.  Ras al Amoud’s Jewish population will increase, as will Silwan’s and of course there will be a plan to link Pisgat Zeev and French Hill as well as Gilo to Har Homa. The Eastern Ring road around Jerusalem will be launched enabling even more Jewish settlement in the East.

Prediction #7: The isolated settlements in the West Bank and Gaza which have been most under fire during the intifada will also be “strengthened”.  The government of Israel will launch a program of new building in those settlements as well.

Prediction #8: The Palestinian intifada will be drawn into Jerusalem as a response to Sharon’s provocations. Jerusalem has been relatively quiet except for the first week of the intifada and the first few Fridays after prayers on the Haram al Sharif.  Jerusalem will no longer be quiet, violence will erupt throughout East Jerusalem and will cross into the West as well.

Prediction #9: More Israeli neighborhoods/settlements in and around East Jerusalem will come under Palestinian fire.  Israel will retaliate with massive force.

Prediction #10: Arafat’s control of the Palestinian streets will continue to wither as chaos continues to take hold of the Palestinian street.  The Palestinian “intifada” (uprising) is turning into an “intifawda” (chaos) as street mobs, militia and other assorted “players” translate their own version of Palestinian national interests into a personal ideology which includes settling accounts, vendettas, extortion as well as legitimate political struggles turned violent because that is the language of the streets in Palestine as the rule of law continues to disappear.

Prediction #11: If Israeli responses to Palestinian violence include attacks into Palestinian areas, we will also witness the release of Hamas and Jihad suicide bombers onto the scene with buses and shopping centers once again exploding as they did in 1996.

Prediction #12: Many people from the Palestinian middle class will leave Palestine, some to Europe and the US and those who can’t get visas or don’t have enough money will leave for Jordan.  Some of those to leave will be Palestinian officials and expatriates who came with the hopes that peace would bring them a decent life.

Prediction #13: Many young Israelis (secular, center and left-wing) will leave Israel. Israel will continue to become more religious and more right-wing.

Prediction #14: The economy of Israel will grow by 1-2% in 2001, below the rate of population growth. The Israeli stock market will decline by 20% in 2001. Unemployment in Israel will climb beyond 11%.

Prediction #15: The Palestinian economy will hit rock bottom with unemployment hitting 50%, Palestinians will cease paying taxes all together. Israel will withhold customs and VAT payments that will be in reduced amounts because of the economic slow-down. The Palestinian Authority will be unable to pay salaries.

Prediction #16: The Inter-Continental Hotel that opened last year in Bethlehem will not be reopened in 2001. Tourism to Israel and to Palestine will reach the lowest levels since the 1960’s.

I really wish that this list of predictions were so far fetched that no one would take it seriously. But, unfortunately, I don’t believe that it is far from the emerging reality.  It is particularly sad because I know how close Israel ad Palestine were to reaching a final status agreement. While gaps are still wide on some key issues, the sides really never have been closer to an agreement as they are today.  Scenarios on the future of Jerusalem and borders that were written by IPCRI from the early 1990’s are now part of the agreed upon parameters for an Israeli-Palestinian agreement. Who would have believed that Prime Minister Barak would run for re-election with the slogan “Two States for Two peoples”, he’s only about 30 years late on that one.

It seems that both Israelis and Palestinians are not ready for an agreement at this time. It seems that both peoples need to suffer a lot more before they will be ready to come back to the table and conclude an agreement that they can both live with.  Here are a few more predictions in this regard:

Prediction #17: The next time the Palestinians come back to the table for final status talks, Arafat will no longer be around. Personally I think this is good for the Palestinian people as well as for Israel.

Prediction #18: When Israel and the Palestinians do get back to the table, they will begin from where they left off now.  After much suffering and hundreds and maybe thousands of casualties, we will end up at the same place we are today.

Prediction #19: IPCRI will remain one of the only institutions still committed to getting Israelis and Palestinians to make peace with each other. IPCRI will still have a small but highly qualified group of Israelis and Palestinians working together, organizing conferences, meetings, dialogues, researches, etc. involving Israelis and Palestinians. The Israeli and Palestinian officials and governments will rely heavily on IPCRI to make informal contacts when the official contacts have broken down.