Nehemia Shtrasler
Haaretz (Analysis)
November 18, 2011 - 1:00am

Last Saturday night, I went to the square. I do so every year, as part of my civic duty to salute the prime minister who was assassinated on the altar of peace. Everyone should devote at least one day a year to the frustrating thought that if the Shin Bet security service had done its job and arrested the murderer, we would today be living in a completely different reality - a much better one.

This year the gathering had a much more up-to-date political character. The speakers did not hesitate to speak out in favor of negotiations and against those who wish to bury us in blood and flames. There were those who mentioned Yitzhak Rabin's legacy in the spheres of friendship, sacrifice and seriousness, but no one spoke about the economic revolution that Rabin introduced. Rabin did not do this directly, but rather as a result of the Oslo Accords of September 13, 1993, which were one of the best economic plans carried out in this country at any time.

Rabin was the first to prove that there is a clear connection between peace and economics, between peace and growth, between peace and employment, between peace and society.

The year 1993 began very badly and an air of pessimism prevailed. Economic growth declined and unemployment reached the alarming rate of 10 percent. But then September arrived and everything changed. The Oslo Accords became the turning point, also in the economic field.

In the wake of the agreement, the economy immediately began to grow at the amazing rate of seven percent (in 1994 ) and unemployment dropped to 7.8 percent. In 1995, the growth continued at the high rate of 6.5 percent and unemployment continued to decline. This was also true in the first half of 1996.

But then Benjamin Netanyahu won the elections and began his campaign to annihilate the Oslo Accords. Netanyahu was successful. He smashed the dream of peace and caused the economy to turn back - from growth and development to a slowdown and unemployment.

The truth is that even before the Oslo agreement, Rabin had made a far-reaching change in the order of priorities. He stopped sending the billions to the settlements that they had received every year from the Likud governments, and sent the money to where it really needed to go: to education, to roads, to highway junctions, and to the development towns. Rabin stopped the destructive process of drying up the Galilee and the Negev by putting an end to the "Development Area A" perks given to firms located "five minutes from Kfar Sava" [that is, in the territories].

Following the Oslo Accords, Israel went from being an outcast state to a sought-after state. Delegations from all over the world flooded the economy, and the exhibition grounds in Tel Aviv could hardly cope with all the gatherings. International companies competed with one another to be the first to invest here and Israel began to enjoy an unprecedented stream of investments from all corners of the globe.

The first time that an official delegation arrived here from Japan was after the Oslo agreement. Until then, the Japanese did not want any business connections with Israel, in order not to annoy the Arab nations. The Indonesians also came then, as did delegations from India and many other nations.

The world was of the opinion that once a peace treaty was signed with the Palestinians, the face of the Middle East would change and Israel would become a bridgehead to the entire Arab world. Therefore everyone wanted to invest here. This brought giant companies here like Nestle, Unilever, Danone, Pepsi, Cable and Wireless, and Kimberly Clark, which had never even dreamed about Israel before the Oslo Accords. Few people remember that McDonalds also only came to Israel after the Oslo agreement, in October 1993.

Until that agreement, foreign investments in Israel stood at ridiculous sums of a few tens of millions of dollars per year, most of this from good Jews. But after the agreement, investments shot up to a level of several billion dollars per year and there were grandiose plans to set up joint industrial zones and regional tourism and health areas.

In those optimistic days, businessmen from Israel became wanted figures at every international conference. Many countries renewed their diplomatic ties with Israel and a number of Arab countries opened missions here - Oman, Qatar, Tunisia and Morocco.

I shall not forget the economic conference in Amman, where Rabin and Shimon Peres were the stars, and I was asked by businessmen from Syria (! ) how one does business with Israel and to whom to turn.

The conference was held at the end of October. A few days before everything ended, a few days before the dream vanished following three shots from a pistol.


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