Analysis from Israel

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is routinely lauded as a “moderate” and a peace-seeker, because unlike Hamas, he generally refrains from openly calling for Israel’s destruction. But anyone who believes he doesn’t share this goal should pay close attention to what he told a group of journalists and Israeli intellectuals on Monday. Amid all the soothing bromides about continued security cooperation and the importance of negotiations was one highly revealing sentence: When the Palestinians seek UN recognition as a state later this month, “We are going to complain that as Palestinians we have been under occupation for 63 years.”

For anyone who needs reminding, Israel’s “occupation” of the West Bank and Gaza began 44 years ago, in 1967. What happened 63 years ago was Israel’s establishment – in the pre-1967 borders. In other words, as far as Abbas is concerned, the problem isn’t Israel’s “occupation” of the West Bank, it’s Israel’s very existence: Even pre-1967 Israel constitutes an “occupation.”

Nor is this position uncommon among Palestinians: A Pew Global Attitudes poll in 2007 found that fully 77 percent of Palestinians think “Palestinians’ rights cannot be taken care of if Israel exists.”

The charitable might say Abbas was simply referring to the Palestinians’ 63 years without a state: At the same time Israel was established, in 1948, Jordan and Egypt occupied the West Bank and Gaza, respectively. But in reality, there has never been an independent Palestinian state; Palestinians have always lived under someone else’s rule. Before 1948 came the 31-year British occupation; before that came the 400-year Turkish occupation; before that came various Arab caliphates that ruled “Palestine” from Damascus; and so forth.

In short, 63 years doesn’t mark the start of Palestinian life under occupation -unless you think Israel’s very existence, and only that, constitutes an occupation. And in fact, that’s precisely what Palestinians do think. That’s why the PLO was founded in 1964, three years before Israel captured the West Bank and Gaza, with the explicit goal of eradicating pre-1967 Israel; that’s why Palestinians never demanded an independent state in the West Bank and Gaza during the 19 years when Jordan and Egypt controlled these areas; that’s why Palestinians rejected the UN partition plan in 1947 and every subsequent offer  of statehood; that’s why Palestinians still demand millions of “refugees” be relocated to Israel under any peace agreement, thereby eliminating the Jewish state demographically (see here, here, here, for instance); that’s why the PA systematically denies the truth of Judaism’s historical ties to this land; and that’s why Abbas still refuses to grant that a “Jewish” state – as opposed to an “Israel” that could be Palestinian-majority via an influx of refugees – has any right to exist.

Abbas, of course, is faithfully reflecting his people’s views – the views of that majority who think “Palestinians’ rights cannot be taken care of if Israel exists,” who see a two-state solution as a mere stepping-stone toward Israel’s eradication. And as long as that remains true, any possibility of an Israeli-Palestinian peace is a pipe dream.

 

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Israel’s unity government may prove a constitutional time bomb

That Israel will soon have a government is good news; almost any government would be better than the political dysfunction that has produced three elections in the past year. But aside from its existence, there’s little to like about this “unity” government.

The biggest problem isn’t that many important issues will perforce go unaddressed, though that’s inevitable given the compromises required when neither bloc can govern on its own. Nor is it the risk that the government will be dysfunctional even on “consensual” issues like rescuing the economy from the coronavirus crisis, though this risk is real, since both sides’ leaders will have veto power over every government decision.

Rather, it’s the cavalier way that Israel’s Basic Laws are being amended to serve the particular needs of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his new partner, Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz.

Though Israel’s Supreme Court wrongly claims the Basic Laws are a constitution, they were never intended as such by the parliaments that passed them. Indeed, some were approved by a mere quarter of the Knesset or less.

But they were intended as the building blocks of a future constitution should Israel ever adopt one. That’s why this handful of laws, alone of all the laws on Israel’s books, are deemed “Basic Laws,” and why each addresses a fundamental constitutional issue (the executive branch, the legislature, the judiciary, human rights, Israel’s Jewish character, etc.).

In other words, though they aren’t a constitution, they do serve as the foundation of Israel’s system of government. And tinkering with the architecture of any democratic system of government can have unintended consequences, as Israel has discovered before to its detriment.

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