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 constitutional crisis has been postponed, not resolved

After years of leftists crying wolf about democracy being endangered, Israel finally experienced a real constitutional crisis last week. That crisis was temporarily frozen by the decision to form a unity government, but it will come roaring back once the coronavirus crisis has passed.

It began with Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein’s refusal to let the newly elected Knesset vote to replace him as speaker and culminated in two interventions by the High Court of Justice. I’m one of very few people on my side of the political spectrum who considers the court’s initial intervention justifiable. But its second was an unprecedented usurpation of the prerogatives of another branch of government, in flagrant violation of legislation that the court itself deems constitutional.

Edelstein’s refusal, despite its terrible optics, stemmed from a genuine constitutional concern, and was consequently backed even by Knesset legal adviser Eyal Yinon, who had opposed Edelstein many times before and would do so again later in this saga. The problem was that neither political bloc could form a government on its own, yet the proposed new speaker came from the faction of Benny Gantz’s Blue and White Party that adamantly opposed a unity government. Thus whether a unity government was formed or Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s caretaker government continued, the new speaker would be in the opposition.

But as Yinon told the court, speakers have always come from the governing coalition because an opposition speaker can effectively stymie all government work. And once elected, he would be virtually impossible to oust, since 90 of the Knesset’s 120 members must vote to do so. An opposition speaker would thus “hurt democracy,” warned Yinon. “We’re planting a bug in the system, and this, too, undermines our constitutional fabric.” That’s why Edelstein wanted to wait, as Knesset bylaws permit, until a government was formed and could choose its own speaker.

Yet despite this genuine and serious concern, the fact remains that a newly elected majority was being barred from exercising its power. Moreover, it had no parliamentary way of solving the problem because only the speaker can convene parliament and schedule a vote. Thus if you believe majorities should be allowed to govern, the court was right to intervene by ordering Edelstein to hold the vote.

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