Predictions for new year: more unrest, instability, war

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Watch for the following in 1999:

Spring elections: 2,500 parties are running, alongside 97 candidates for prime minister, none of them inspiring, with political platforms that amount to little more than egoistic postcards. The result? More Israeli withdrawals alongside Palestinian statehood, no matter who wins, and a national unity government as the only way to overcome our polity's utter disintegration.

Bibi: Houdini has done it before and May is a long way off, so don't rule out Benjamin Netanyahu yet. Admittedly, things look bad for the prime minister and very good for Amnon Lipkin Shahak. But that's only because Shahak hasn't yet opened his mouth. Dan Meridor is the man to watch — you heard it here first.

Political culture: In a way, both Bill Clinton and Netanyahu are casualties of a culture war where vengeance has become the defining idiom of politics, retribution and mean-spiritedness the operational scheme. Watch the public demand an end to this untamed confrontationism. We deserve a politic that is selfless, issue-oriented, attenuated by reasonableness.

Shas: Round one of the never-ending trials of Shas Knesset member Aryeh Deri — charged with corruption — will conclude next year, my guess, in acquittal. Rounds two and three will extend centuries into the new millennium. In the meantime, Shas will formally swallow up the National Religious Party and take over Chabad too. The Sephardic Torah Guardians could even end up as the largest faction in the next Knesset!

Wye Two: Palestinian and Israeli negotiators will be summoned to Wye River Plantation by Clinton (or Al Gore?) in late April to lock horns and head off a unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood, scheduled for May 4. Betcha that this time Sara Netanyahu won't be there.

Battle for Jerusalem: Watch for the intifada to hit the Holy City full force as talks on final status heat up, or the battle brews over the borders of Yasser Arafat's unilaterally declared state. The "prisoner intifada" we've been facing in recent weeks is but child's play, a warm-up exercise.

Palestine: The little dictatorship on our borders won't be pareve, as one pundit put it recently, meaning that Palestine likely won't be winning any human rights, free speech or pacifist awards. How many times in 1999 will Arafat "arrest" and then release Sheik Yassin? And with whom will Palestine vote more frequently in the United Nations — with the United States, or Iraq?

Lebanon: Unilateral withdrawal from the security zone isn't much of an option, yet the public clamor for a change in our northern defense posture grows by the week, with every additional casualty. Do Shakak and Ehud Barak have any brilliant ideas, short of coughing up the entire Golan to Syria?

Haredim: The induction of 40 black-hat boys once every half-year into a fervently religious Nahal unit just won't cut it. A broader solution to haredi draft dodging has to be negotiated, and not just because the High Court of Justice has set a December 1999 deadline for this. Calm leadership on all sides is required for quiet, respectful deal-making, without going to the barricades.

Crime: Will the car theft numbers in 1999 top this year's record of 50,000? What about the 20,000 reported cases of violence within the family, 10,000 other assorted assaults, 60,000 burglaries, 14,000 drug-related offenses, 192 non-terrorist murders, and rapes that take place on average once every 12 hours?

Iraq: Will America finally take down Saddam, with or without Monica as the impetus? Will the French and Russians force a reintroduction of phony, toothless U.N. inspections, allowing Saddam to rebuild his "milk powder factories" and "presidential palaces"?

Regional (in)stability: The kings of Morocco (Hassan), Saudi Arabia (Fahd) and Jordan (Hussein) are extremely ill. Arafat and Syria's Hafez Assad are not exactly healthy. Will the fundamentalists inherit the Arab earth in the next generation?

Bad guys: Keep an eye on the emerging strategic alliance between Russia, China and India. Prepare for the big bailout of a bankrupt Russian economy. Beware of China. The next century could belong to the Asian power, especially since the Clinton administration has dropped any pretense of linking trade to progress in human rights.

Wars everywhere: Might an Iran-Afghanistan border conflict engulf the region? Will there be an end to the bloodletting in Indonesia, Albania, Algeria, Serbia-Kosovo, Nagarno-Karabach, Rwanda, Sudan, Zaire, etc., etc.?

The Pope: Vatican denials notwithstanding, the pope is pseriously ill. What will Catholic-Jewish relations be like after John Paul II, and what will become of the millennium 2000 celebrations in Israel that he is so keen on? Of course, the Palestinians in Bethlehem will have to stop rioting for a few hours, else the tourists won't come.

Y2K: Come this time next December, will anyone be able to travel abroad for the holidays or will the "millennium bug" wipe out our international travel computer systems? Imagine a world without computer stock trading, hospital records, traffic lights, e-mail and — gulp — newspapers!