Amos Perlmutter, a professor of Political Science and Sociology at American University and a leading specialist on political and military affairs, recently met with members of the Middle East Forum to discuss the Israeli elections.
Bucking conventional wisdom, Mr. Perlmutter asserted that Binyamin Netanyahu's election as Prime Minister will have two principal consequences for Israel, both quite positive.
Privatization. Mr. Netanyahu's election will ensure the long overdue deregulation and privatization of Israel's many torpid state-owned companies. He hopes to create an American-style Office of Management and Budget to assert his control over these important efforts and to counteract the anti-privatization sentiments of many in the Finance Ministry. Some analysts have estimated that the sale of government enterprises could raise thirty billion dollars or more; perhaps more importantly it will strengthen the capitalistic and entrepreneurial spirit that is essential for Israel's prosperity in the twenty-first century. Mr. Perlmutter concluded that economic development, symbolized by Intel's decision to build a billion dollar plant in Israel, is critical for Israel's future prosperity. Observers who follow the ebbs and flows of the peace process often underestimate its importance.
Security. Mr. Netanyahu's other major contribution will be to alter the goals and substance of the peace process, which is favored by a majority of Israelis. Many Israelis feared that the peace process under Peres had developed its own logic; and that Peres's passion to secure an agreement was so strong that he might compromise Israel's security in order to achieve it. As a candidate for prime minister, Mr. Netanyahu capitalized on these fears and emphasized that, unlike his opponent, he had no desire for a Nobel prize and his only priority was keeping Israelis safe. Israeli Jews rewarded Mr. Netanyahu's sober stance with an impressive 56 percent of their vote -- a strong mandate, particularly in the cutthroat world of Israeli politics.
Media Bias. Why has Mr. Netanyahu been excoriated by the press, both in Israel and the United States? Mr. Perlmutter explained that the Israeli media establishment, most notably the newspaper Ha'aretz and the radio network Qol Yisra'el, are controlled by the Labor party -- and have the most to lose if privatization takes place. Leading American newspapers, including The New York Times and The Washington Post, take their editorial cues from Ha'aretz. Mr. Perlmutter gave as an example Thomas Friedman's profoundly unjust comparison of Mr. Netanyahu with Russian authoritarian Gennady Zyuganov in his New York Times column. While all Israelis do not agree with Mr. Netanyahu (such a thing cannot happen in a healthy democracy), his victory was both legitimate and conclusive, particularly since he was the first Israeli Prime Minister chosen through direct election.
In closing, Mr. Perlmutter urged that observers judge Mr. Netanyahu not by hysterical media accounts, but rather by his achievements in office: if he secures peace agreements that build Israel's security, and privatizes Israel's inefficient state-run enterprises, Binyamin Netanyahu will assure himself a distinguished place in history.
This summary was prepared by Nick Beckwith, a research assistant at the Middle East Forum.