- Charting a new economic agenda for the nation
- Netanyahu’s bankrupt strategy
- Israel showed restraint in Gaza before attacking? You must be kidding
- As an ex-soldier in the IDF, I’ve seen how shockingly we treat Palestinians
Posted: 16 Jul 2014 06:52 PM PDT
Speech by Anwar Ibrahim at the Economic Agenda Forum & Iftar on July 16, 2014 at the Menteri Besar Selangor's Official Residence
However, among the first actions taken by the government immediately after the general elections was to raise the price of petrol and sugar. Since then, it's been one after another round of price increases while the promised reforms turned out to be mere sound bites.
In our case, despite winning the popular vote of 52%, we were denied our legitimate right to rule. But our conviction for change has not dissipated, our hope still very much alive and our will still firm and resolute.
Today, let me share with you our road map to a new economic agenda for Malaysia as we go forward towards 2018.
Rising cost of living, mounting household debt
Many are finding it hard to make ends meet. Many have to look for other sources of income. Even more have to resort to borrowing. Household debt builds up. At 86.6% percent of the GDP, our household debt is one of the highest in the world.There is indeed a clear and present danger of the rising tide of household debt inundating us.
Widening gap between rich and poor
Just two days ago, the nation was presented with a set of numbers that purported to show how well we are doing in terms of our overall economy: as compared to last year, it seems, our growth is more robust, foreign investment is doing well, we are more competitive at the international level and the process towards a high income economy is on track.
But let us set the record straight.
Foreign owned debt and overheating
Our economy is exhibiting classic signs of overheating, including credit growth that is racing ahead of GDP growth and incomes and a currency that has seen sustained appreciation notwithstanding recent volatility.
Govt debt to GDP ratio is at 54.8%, inching closer to the 55% ceiling, household debt is at an all time high of around 86.6% GDP and corporate debt is approaching 96% of GDP.
The reality is that many workers may have jobs and incomes today but may lose them all in a year or two or even a few months. We do not have a comprehensive social safety net. This breeds unrest and an overall lack of economic confidence.
We saw how such a situation blew up in the face of unbridled American free market capitalism in the wake of the 2007 sub-prime crisis. We have witnessed the riots in Greece and Spain and other European cities essentially as a result of the hardship of workers losing their jobs. And do not forget that it happened in spite of a better social safety net than ours.
To further promote a pro-Rakyat administration, we will fix a time line for government bodies that own highway concessions to transfer them to the government so that tolls will be abolished.
There must be transparency in the process and documents should be allowed for public viewing.
Prescription for going forward
1. Sustained growth to create productive jobs for a wide section of the population;
Labour market reforms
We are locked in at the low value-added, high volume and low wage stage of the value-added chain in manufacturing and services. The dependence on migrant workers discourages entrepreneurs to shift to more capital and knowledge-intensive methods of production. This has to stop.
A minimum wage that provides for a decent living standard for the workers must be enforced. During the transition, assistance in the form of financial grants and productivity boosting measures may have to be given to small firms that have difficulty in implementing the minimum wage.
GST a weapon of injustice
Without effective creation of employment opportunities that improve both productivity and take-home incomes, the bottom 40% will struggle to graduate to the middle, and the heavily-squeezed middle will struggle to foot the new tax bill.
Crony capitalism and subsidy rationalisation
Why should the poor and the middle class have to tighten their belts while the rich loosen theirs? Occcasional BR1M payments are not enough to help families escape the low-income trap. It only perpetuates the rakyat in a state of economic vulnerability and dependency on government handouts.
In our strategy, however, this injustice and oppression will be removed for we will maintain subsidies for the poor and ensure that those for the rich and powerful will be withdrawn.
Promote inclusive growth
Secondly, emphasis should be given to opportunities for low-income households to take up job opportunities. Re-skilling programmes can be further implemented. There should be better guarantee of employee rights and women, in particular, should not be penalised in terms of wages.
Thirdly, collective bargaining should be protected. Government, employers and employees all have to work together to reduce inequality at a pace acceptable to all. Fair and transparent dialogue within a clear framework is the basis for this.
Fourthly, to support inclusive growth,BNM should introduce a counter-cyclical monetary policy that would reduce volatility and increase the ability of poor households to accumulate productive assets.
Social justice agenda
Privatization of health care must be stopped. Instead there should be good and better state provision of health care services. A universal health care program encompassing all aspects such as public access, palliative and curative medicine and the infrastructure development of public hospitals and clinics must be introduced.
Housing for the poor
Democratisation of access to education
Strengthening domestic economic resilience
Women and youth
The youth make up about 60 per cent of the total unemployed, with those in the 20-24 age group being the largest proportion at 40%. What we need urgently are social programmes and skills training for their empowerment to reduce their sense of marginalisation and alienation.
Posted: 15 Jul 2014 08:21 PM PDT
By demonizing the Palestinian leadership, the Israeli prime minister raised expectations for a decisive victory and opened the door for attacks from the right.
Launching military campaigns in Israel is easy: the public idolizes the army and tends to support whatever measures it takes, and the parliamentary opposition rallies behind the government at such moments. Indeed, Benjamin Netanyahu's second campaign in Gaza as prime minister—and the third the country has launched in less than five years—was true to form, enjoying nearly unanimous support in Israel, despite heavy civilian casualties on the Palestinian side and the disruption to daily life caused by hundreds of rockets launched by Hamas, including at Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Israel's international airport.
As the military campaign enters its second week, with more than 1,500 tons of explosives already dropped on the heavily populated Strip, an end game in Gaza is nowhere in sight. Egypt has offered a cease-fire similar to the one reached after the November 2012 military campaign, and a fragile truce might indeed emerge, but none of the core issues in Gaza will be addressed—leading most observers to conclude that the clock is already ticking toward the next escalation.
Unlike operation Cast Lead in 2008–09, Operation Protective Edge didn't open with a "shock and awe" strike, which took the lives of hundreds in just the first few days, but rather escalated gradually, giving the sense that Israel would have rather avoided this round, if only Hamas ceased to fire rockets on Israeli towns.
Yet there is a wider context that should be considered: following the kidnapping of three Israeli teens on June 12, the government arrested hundreds of Hamas members in the West Bank, most of them from the political leadership who had nothing to do with the attack (which in all likelihood was carried out by rogue freelancers). Dozens of prisoners who had been released in the prisoner exchange deal for Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit were detained again, as a purely punitive measure and without any evidence that they had returned to militant activities.
Since the accord between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, Israel has also prevented the transfer of funds that pay the salaries of public officials in Gaza. In fact, when UN envoy Robert Serry sought an arrangement with Israeli officials that would allow the salaries to be transferred, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman threatened to expel Serry for "aiding Hamas." And, not least, Israel had stepped up its own military activities in Gaza before the latest escalation, claiming the lives of several militants and at least one boy, who was injured on June 11 and died three days later.
The denial of funds, along with the closing of the tunnels from Egypt to Gaza by the new regime in Cairo, which is overtly hostile to Hamas, has caused a political and economic crisis in the Strip, and thus left Hamas—whose main political currency is its image of "resistance"—with little reason to avoid escalation.
These facts, which have been largely ignored by the Israeli media, do not justify Hamas's tactics, which deliberately target civilians in clear violation of international law. They suggest, however, the existence of alternative courses of action that Israel could have taken in the weeks preceding the current crisis. But the Israeli government has refused for years to address the fundamental problems in Gaza—the siege and its separation from the rest of the Palestinian population in Israel and the West Bank being the most obvious ones. The Hamas-PA accord actually presented Jerusalem with an opportunity to deal with Hamas politically; instead, Israel decided to cut ties with the newly formed government and even demanded that the international community follow suit.
Hamas entered this round of violence considerably weakened, having lost its allies in Cairo and having seen many of the tunnels under the Egyptian border destroyed, and its rocket attacks allowed Israel to portray its military campaign to the West as a legitimate self-defense measure. This very same freedom of maneuver, however, reveals the limits of Israeli strategy—or, some would argue, the lack of a strategy at all. Israeli could easily conquer Gaza, but it doesn't want to hold it, and what might seem like the ultimate Israeli goal—the destruction of Hamas—doesn't make much sense, since it's pretty clear that the ensuing anarchy would not serve Israel's interests. Far more extreme groups are waiting at the gate.
If Israel does end the war now, Prime Minister Netanyahu will face attacks from his political base on the right and among the settlers. The hard right, with its echo chamber in the media, already senses an opportunity. Amos Regev, the editor of the pro-Netanyahu daily Yisrael Hayom, called in an editorial for bombing Gaza "back to the stone age." Avigdor Lieberman went as far as saying that Israel should seize direct control of the Strip again, and on the eve of the military operation he broke his political pact with Netanyahu and the Likud, though he remains a part of the government. In a cabinet vote on Tuesday morning, settler leader Naftali Bennett opposed the Egyptian offer, and so did Lieberman. "The assumption is that whatever happens in this war, Netanyahu loses ground," an adviser to a senior Israeli politician told me this week, before details of the cease-fire offer were known.
Netanyahu can only blame himself for his political troubles. By demonizing the Palestinian leadership—Abbas just the same as Hamas—he raised expectations in the Israeli public for a decisive victory and opened the door for attacks from the right. His refusal to commit to a meaningful political process with the Palestinians, along with his insistence on maintaining the status quo through military superiority alone, will pretty much guarantee that this cycle of violent escalations continues in years to come.
Posted: 15 Jul 2014 07:58 PM PDT
Our media ingrains warped terminology that bolsters the effort to portray Israel as a victim. Here are a few examples.
"Gaza is an independent state."
Gaza and the West Bank have the same international area code — 970. (The separate code is an empty gesture left over from the Oslo period. The Palestinian phone system is a branch of the Israeli one. When the Shin Bet security service calls a house in Gaza to announce that the air force is going to bomb that house, the Shin Bet doesn't have to dial 970).
With his colonialist guile and skills he acquired from Mapai, the precursor to Labor, Ariel Sharon removed the settlers from the Gaza Strip. Via another form of domination, he tried to cut the enclave off for good from the West Bank. The effective control of the sea, air, borders and much of Gaza remains in Israel's hands.
And yes, Hamas and Fatah, motivated by their factional struggle, have significantly contributed to the disconnect between the two parts. With its propaganda, Hamas has bolstered the illusion of Gaza's "independence."
Meanwhile, Israel still controls the population registry for Gaza and the West Bank. Every Palestinian newborn in Gaza or the West Bank must be registered with the Israeli Interior Ministry (via the Coordination and Liaison Administration) to be able to obtain an ID card at age 16.
The information typed into the cards is also in Hebrew. Have you ever heard of an independent state whose people must register in the "neighboring" (occupying and attacking) state — otherwise they won't have documents and won't officially exist?
When experts like Giora Eiland, a retired general who helped plan the Gaza disengagement, say Gaza is an independent state that's attacking us, they're trying to expunge the context of this round of bloodshed. That's a pretty easy task. Israelis have already done this.
And Hamas? It wants to boost its standing as a resistance movement after the blows it took as a governing movement. Maybe it really thinks it can change the Palestinian leadership's entire strategy vis-a-vis the Israeli occupation. Maybe it wants the world (and the Arab states) to awaken from its slumber.
Still, with all due respect to Clausewitz, rational calculations are not the only explanation. Let's not forget the missile envy — whose is bigger, longer, more impressive and reaches farther? The boys play with their toys and we've gotten used to calling it policy.
"Israel has shown restraint."
Why not with the farmers and metal scavengers near the separation barrier who have no other income and are shot at and sometimes wounded and killed by soldiers? Or the demolition of Palestinian houses supposedly for administrative reasons in the West Bank and Jerusalem?
Don't we call this restraint because this is violence that the Israeli media arrogantly overlooks? And why don't we hear about the Palestinian restraint after Nadim Nawara and Mohammed Abu Dhaher were killed by Israeli soldiers at the Ofer checkpoint? "Restraint" is another term that expunges contexts and bolsters the sense of victimhood of the world's fourth-mightiest military power.
"Israel supplies water, electricity, food and medicine to Gaza."
According to the Gisha Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, in 2012, 1.3 billion shekels ($379 million) worth of Israeli products were purchased in the Gaza Strip. So Gaza is also a captive market for Israel.
As for water, Israel has imposed an autarchic water economy on Gaza; that is, Gazans must make do with rainwater and groundwater that collects in its territory. Israel, which imposes a water quota on the Palestinians, does not let them share the West Bank's water sources with Gaza.
As a result, demand outstrips supply and there is over-pumping. Seawater seeps into the groundwater, as does sewage from decrepit pipelines. Ninety-five percent of Gaza's water is not fit for drinking. And based on past agreements, Israel sells 5 million cubic meters of water to Gaza (a drop in the ocean).
"Israel only pinpoints legitimate targets."
"Hamas uses the population as human shields."
And how far is our "sewing factory" in Dimona from residential areas? Why is it all right for us and not for them? Just because they don't have the phallic ability to bomb these places?
Posted: 15 Jul 2014 07:38 PM PDT
There are moral red lines. Why do we keep crossing them?
I only knew Gaza from the stories. It was the military zone for which the Givate Brigade was responsible, but we all knew the stories about how they managed to kill several militants in one ambush. Honestly, we were a bit jealous. I was drafted into the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) at the end of the Second Intifada into a special operations unit of the paratrooper brigade. From the start of my service I knew that Nablus and Jenin would be the areas for which we were responsible. Child's play, seemingly, compared to the stories that came out of Gaza – but my child's play. I'll never forget the first time that I was shot at, the first Palestinian corpse I ever saw, and the fear and adrenaline during my first military operation.
My first mission involved the seizure of a Palestinian home. I had never before had the opportunity to be inside a Palestinian home, and my squad was surprised for a moment by the fact that within the home lived an entire family – spanning three generations. We woke everyone up, and took over the house. We put everyone in one room – women, men, children, and the elderly. One of the guys was stationed at the door to ensure that they didn't get out. In the meantime, we took care of our business. I remember asking myself: what do they think about all of this? What would I do if soldiers broke into my home? But I immediately repressed these questions and carried on with the mission. As time passed, fear turned into boredom, adrenaline stabilized, and my doubts about the extent of the operational logic and its justification would return to gnaw at me. But the next day there were already new operations. This was our daily routine, and as a result, the next time I didn't really think about how the family whose home we entered felt. My personal red moral line blurred very quickly. Every time I would tell myself – this is still okay. But it's in the nature of red lines to move along an imaginary scale. I wasn't bothered when we destroyed entire homes during search operations, and when my squad accidentally shot an innocent woman, and we quickly buried the incident and moved on. Today I know that my ability to distinguish whether a particular action crosses the line, didn't really exist back then.
What happened to me is happening to the IDF and to Israeli society at large. During Operation Cast Lead I had been a civilian active with Breaking the Silence for over a year, but I was still shocked by the incidents I heard had occurred there. I remember a friend who had taken part in Cast Lead. He returned shaken by the fact that homes of "Hamas members" were deemed legitimate targets for bombing without any relation to the risk they posed to our soldiers in the field. That was the first time he had encountered such orders during his military service. This is what he testified:
“In the morning we identified four men, aged 25 – 40, with keffiyehs, standing outside the house talking. It was suspect. We reported it to intelligence, specifying the house they were about to enter. Intelligence passed this on to the Shabak (Israeli Security Agency) who reported that this was known as a Hamas activist's house. This is automatically acted upon. I don't remember what we used – whether it was a helicopter or something else, but the house was bombed while these guys were inside. A woman ran out of the house holding a child, and escaped southward. That is to say, there had been innocent people inside.”
The same red line that was crossed during Operation Cast Lead has become the starting line for Operation Protective Edge. Homes of "Hamas members" were added to the IDF's long list of potential targets in the Gaza Strip.
The politicians that send us to perform these tasks don't even pretend to promise hope for a better future. Just further use of force and violence. Our doubts about logic and justice don't even interest us anymore, as our red moral lines are constantly moving in the face of our reality – much like mine during my military service. 150 killed in Gaza in the first six days of the operation, the vast majority of whom were civilians, and a quarter of whom were children. Millions of Israeli and Palestinian people live in existential fear that a rocket or a missile will fall on their heads. The end of one bout of violence merely sets an alarm for the next.
The red line at which we stopped during Operation Cast Lead (2009), is the same line from which we commenced Operation Pillar of Defense (2011). The point at which we stopped during Pillar of Defense is the same place from which we've started Protective Edge. What will our next red line be? And when will we cross that one too? Only we can answer that question. It depends on us, and what we allow others to do in our name.
Avner Gvaryahu served in the IDF as a sergeant in special forces from November 2004-November, 2007
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