Analysis from Israel

After the Israeli defense minister’s undiplomatic skepticism about the peace process prompted a diplomatic flap earlier this week, Secretary of State John Kerry announced yesterday that he is “undeterred,” explaining, “I believe strongly in the prospects for peace.” In that, Kerry isn’t alone: An entire industry has arisen around the belief that Israeli-Palestinian peace is imminently attainable, and it is consistently “undeterred” by the facts. For a classic example, consider the joint Israeli-Palestinian poll released in late December under the unequivocal headline, “The majority of Israelis (63%) and of Palestinians (53%) support the two states solution.”

That sounds very promising, until you read the fine print. And then it turns out that most Palestinians don’t support the two-state solution at all–or at least, not the one whose terms “everyone knows.” In fact, when presented with the elements of that “everyone knows” package, defined by the researchers as based on the Clinton parameters and the Geneva Initiative, 53 percent of Palestinians opposed it, while only 46 percent supported it.

Moreover, several specific clauses were rejected by both Palestinians and Israelis, though Israelis supported the overall package by 54 percent to 37 percent.

For instance, Palestinians opposed the “everyone knows” plan for dividing Jerusalem (Israel retains Jewish neighborhoods, including the Old City’s Jewish Quarter and the Western Wall, while Palestinians get Palestinian neighborhoods, including the rest of the Old City and the Temple Mount) by a whopping 68 percent to 32 percent. That’s consistent with their longstanding refusal to recognize any Jewish connection whatsoever to Jerusalem. But Israelis also rejected it overwhelmingly, 56 percent to 37 percent, consistent with their longstanding opposition to ceding Judaism’s holy site, the Temple Mount. The shared opposition also reflects both sides’ understanding of the proposal’s sheer impracticality (as I explained here).

By an even larger majority, 71 percent to 28 percent, Palestinians opposed the idea of a demilitarized Palestinian state (Israelis, unsurprisingly, supported it). Yet this has long been recognized by international mediators as an essential security element of any deal.

On refugees, the researchers managed to craft a proposal that both parties rejected. Palestinians opposed it by a relatively narrow margin, 52 percent to 46 percent, which initially surprised me: Most polls show much stronger Palestinian opposition to abandoning their dream of eliminating the Jewish state by resettling millions of Palestinians there. But after reading the fine print, I understood why: On this issue, the researchers ditched the Clinton parameters in favor of the Geneva Initiative, which no Israeli government ever has accepted or will accept.

Under this plan, Israel cedes its right to determine how many Palestinians to let into its territory, committing instead to accept the average number accepted by third-party states–some of which, like Jordan, have granted citizenship to millions of Palestinians. Hence it garnered less Palestinian opposition than the standard version, which lets Israel decide how many Palestinians to accept. But, unsurprisingly, Israelis rejected it decisively (50 percent to 39 percent).

Finally, there’s the most important clause of all: Even “after the establishment of an independent Palestinian state and the settlement of all issues in dispute,” Palestinians still rejected “mutual recognition of Israel as the state of the Jewish people and Palestine as the state of the Palestinian people,” by a majority of 56 percent to 43 percent. In short, even after all other issues are “resolved,” Palestinians still refuse to recognize the Jewish people’s right to a state of their own.

So what exactly does it mean that Palestinians “support a two-state solution”? The same thing it has always meant, as an unusually honest 2011 poll revealed: not two states living side by side in peace and security, but two states as a stepping-stone to Israel’s ultimate eradication. That’s why they insist on resettling millions of Palestinians in Israel; that’s why they reject any Jewish connection to Jerusalem; and that’s why they can’t recognize Israel as “the state of the Jewish people.”

And as long as that remains true, Kerry’s belief in “the prospects for peace” really is “messianic”–however unwise it was of Moshe Ya’alon to say so.

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Why Israel Needs a Better Political Class

Note: This piece is a response to an essay by Haviv Rettig Gur, which can be found here

Israel’s current political crisis exemplifies the maxim that hard cases make bad law. This case is desperate. Six months after the coronavirus erupted and nine months after the fiscal year began, Israel still lacks both a functioning contact-tracing system and an approved 2020 budget, mainly because Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is more worried about politics than the domestic problems that Israel now confronts. The government’s failure to perform these basic tasks obviously invites the conclusion that civil servants’ far-reaching powers must not only be preserved, but perhaps even increased.

This would be the wrong conclusion. Bureaucrats, especially when they have great power, are vulnerable to the same ills as elected politicians. But unlike politicians, they are completely unaccountable to the public.

That doesn’t mean Haviv Rettig Gur is wrong to deem them indispensable. They provide institutional memory, flesh out elected officials’ policies, and supply information the politicians may not know and options they may not have considered. Yet the current crisis shows in several ways why they neither can nor should substitute for elected politicians.

First, bureaucrats are no less prone to poor judgment than politicians. As evidence, consider Siegal Sadetzki, part of the Netanyahu-led triumvirate that ran Israel’s initial response to the coronavirus. It’s unsurprising that Gur never mentioned Sadetzki even as he lauded the triumvirate’s third member, former Health Ministry Director General Moshe Bar Siman-Tov; she and her fellow Health Ministry staffers are a major reason why Israel still lacks a functional test-and-trace system.

Sadetzki, an epidemiologist, was the ministry’s director of public-health services and the only member of the triumvirate with professional expertise in epidemics (Bar Siman-Tov is an economist). As such, her input was crucial. Yet she adamantly opposed expanding virus testing, even publicly asserting that “Too much testing will increase complacence.” She opposed letting organizations outside the public-health system do lab work for coronavirus tests, even though the system was overwhelmed. She opposed sewage monitoring to track the spread of the virus. And on, and on.

Moreover, even after acknowledging that test-and-trace was necessary, ministry bureaucrats insisted for months that their ministry do the tracing despite its glaringly inadequate manpower. Only in August was the job finally given to the army, which does have the requisite personnel. And the system still isn’t fully operational.

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