Having it both ways, Israeli style

Anthony Lewis

January 24, 1992|By Anthony Lewis

Jerusalem -- DOV FROHMAN is one of Israel's high-technology business stars, a vice president of the California microcomputer company Intel and general manager of Intel Israel.

Last year he won the Israel Prize for engineering and technology. A jolly man with a large beard, he has had an international career.

Twenty years ago in California Frohman invented the Eprom chip,a breakthrough that helped start Intel's phenomenal growth. He took a year off in Africa, teaching in Ghana and going up the Congo River in Zaire.

Then he persuaded Intel, with much difficulty, to start operations in Israel. They have been a great success.

In a conversation the other day I asked him how Israel could provide employment for the Soviet Jews who want to come here. Some 325,000 have already arrived. Others are holding back because Israel's economy is weak and there are no jobs for them.

His answer was: Attract investment from abroad, especially in high-tech ventures. He said Israel had the asset of "qualified manpower, people of creativity, imagination. With globalization, everything in business is mobile except manpower. So companies are going to look for centers of excellence.

"So why don't we have more high-tech investment? The problem is political and economic stability. Why would a business want to go to an unstable place?"

The current peace negotiations with the Palestinians and neighboring Arab states are a major reason for hope, he said; even the fact that the parties are talking has changed the atmosphere.

"Peace is the great thing," Frohman said. "I don't think we can get accelerated growth unless we solve the problem."

Frohman is not alone in his belief that peace is a key to economic growth. Other business leaders have the same view. One is Aharon Dovrat, the founder of Israel's largest private conglomerate, Clal.

"Peace is a precondition to attract investment on any significant scale," Dovrat said. "It is our only hope.

"Give us peace, and it is a marvelous country -- with many reasons to attract investment. If Israel had had peace for the last 10 years, it would be approaching Switzerland.

"People won't send their money to a country that is full of unrest. The idea of attracting investment and at the same time building settlements on occupied land is completely crazy."

Ephraim Arazi, the founder of Scitex, Israel's biggest high-tech company, made a similar point on Israeli television recently. He said the country needs "a stable political atmosphere" and cannot have that if it goes on "playing a double game" in the West Bank -- not annexing it but not letting it be Palestinian territory.

"Menachem Begin understood that to make peace we had to give up territory," Arazi said. "He gave us a precedent. So let's do something."

An important American supporter of Israel, Laurence Tisch, the chairman of CBS, was interviewed by the Israeli newspaper Yediot Ahronot. He said his companies would not invest in Israel now. The interviewer asked what would change that position.

"The peace process and privatization in Israel," Tisch replied. "An end to the Arab boycott and relations between Israel and the Arab states would create incredible investment possibilities in Israel.

"I hope the Israeli government will understand the opportunity it has and will speed up the peace process."

It hardly needs to be said that the government of Israel does not accept the industrialists' premise. Its policy is precisely to continue what Arazi called the "double game," not formally annexing the occupied territories but accelerating settlements in them.

The public is deeply divided. Polls suggest that a narrow majority would freeze the settlement process if that opened the way to agreement with the Palestinians.

But few people have probably framed the issue in the stark economic terms that are in the business people's minds: as a choice between continued occupation of the territories and economic growth.

And Prime Minister Shamir, facing an election, is highly skilled at obscuring the choice -- at assuring Israelis that they can have it both ways.

Anthony Lewis is a New York Times columnist.

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