Analysis from Israel

After a Forbes article on Israeli-Palestinian cooperation in high-tech industries drew horrified responses from the Palestinian companies featured, Jonathan correctly cited this as yet more evidence that Israeli-Palestinian peace is currently unattainable: When Palestinians fear being viewed as collaborators for working with Israelis to build the Palestinians’ own economy, and when the very idea that such cooperation could advance peace is considered treasonable, peace clearly isn’t in the offing. But Palestinian businessmen at least have an excuse for this reaction: They genuinely fear their own anti-normalization thugs. What’s harder to explain is why Europe also opposes cooperation with Israel even when it would clearly benefit the Palestinians.

Haaretz recently reported two salient examples: The Dutch government is pressuring a Dutch company to withdraw from a sewage treatment project run by Jerusalem’s municipal water corporation, and Germany’s state-owned development bank KfW is seeking to bar Jewish settlements from burying their trash at a new landfill it’s planning in the West Bank. In both cases, the primary victims will be Palestinians–but in both, European governments have decided that eschewing cooperation with Israel is more important than helping Palestinians.

The Dutch company, Royal Haskoning DHV, won a contract to build a sewage treatment plant in the West Bank to reduce pollution in the Kidron stream. As Haaretz explains, the Kidron “runs from the Mount of Olives and the village of Silwan in eastern Jerusalem toward Ma’ale Adumim and the Dead Sea.” Silwan is a large Palestinian neighborhood of Jerusalem while Ma’ale Adumim is a Jewish settlement, so the project would help both Jews and Arabs. But Palestinians would benefit more: Not only does Silwan have a larger population than Ma’ale Adumim, but the Kidron runs entirely through land that, in Europe’s view, should belong to a future Palestinian state.

Royal Haskoning’s withdrawal from the project would at best significantly delay it, and might even result in it being canceled altogether. Meanwhile, Palestinians would continue to suffer from a polluted waterway nearby, and the future Palestinian state would suffer additional environmental damage. But in the Dutch government’s view, increased Palestinian suffering is preferable to any cooperation with Israel in “occupied territory.”

KfW’s project is a landfill to replace the one that used to serve both the Palestinian town of El Bireh and nearby Jewish settlements. The old landfill was recently closed because it had become a severe environmental hazard, so the new one is needed urgently. But KfW has demanded that it only serve Palestinians, not the settlements.

This has three possible consequences. First, Israel might build a second landfill for the settlements, thereby rendering additional land in the future Palestinian state environmentally unfit for any other use. Second, the settlements might be left without an authorized landfill, forcing them to resort to pirate dumps, which would significantly increase the environmental harm to both Palestinians living in the area and the future Palestinian state. Third, Israel could reject KfW’s proposal on the reasonable grounds that a landfill serving only some of the area’s residents is economically and environmentally inefficient and seek a new developer. That would significantly delay the landfill’s construction and increase the already enormous suffering of El Bireh residents, who are drowning in garbage. 

All three options would primarily hurt the Palestinians. But the German government, too, evidently views increased Palestinian suffering as preferable to cooperating with Israel in “occupied territory.”

Europeans don’t have the excuse of being vulnerable to threats by Palestinian anti-normalization thugs; this is pure spite. And when that’s the example set by “enlightened,” “peace-seeking” Europe, is it any wonder that Palestinians see nothing objectionable about doing the same?

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Israel’s do-over election performed a vital service for democracy

Like many Israelis, I was horrified when April’s election led to another in September; it seemed a colossal waste of time and money. But the do-ever election proved critical to maintaining Israel’s democratic legitimacy among half the public—the half that would otherwise have thought that April’s election was stolen from them.

In April, rightist parties that explicitly promised to support Benjamin Netanyahu for prime minister won 65 of the Knesset’s 120 seats. In other words, a clear majority of voters seemingly cast their ballots for a rightist, Netanyahu-led government. But after the election, Yisrael Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman refused to join such a government.

Thus even if an alternative government could have been formed—whether a unity government or one led by Netanyahu’s rival, Benny Gantz—it would have undermined rightists’ faith in the democratic process. Any such government would have looked like a product not of the majority’s will, but of the whims of a single individual who “stole” right-wing votes and gave them to the left.

The do-over election showed this wasn’t the case. Lieberman’s party not only maintained its strength, but increased it, thereby proving him right that his voters cared more about curbing ultra-Orthodox power than about keeping Netanyahu in office. Moreover, the pro-Netanyahu bloc shrank even further—from 60 seats (excluding Lieberman) in April to 55 in September—due entirely to Netanyahu’s own appalling behavior in the intervening months, which prompted a nontrivial number of center-right voters to either switch sides or stay home and a massive increase in Arab turnout.

That doesn’t mean Gantz won; the bloc he heads can’t form a government on its own. But neither can Netanyahu’s bloc. Any possible solution—a unity government, a Netanyahu government with leftist partners or a Gantz government with rightist partners—will require compromise between the blocs. And nobody will be able to claim the election was stolen when that happens.

This matters greatly because the democratic process has been subverted far too often over the past 25 years, usually in the left’s favor, with enthusiastic applause from the left’s self-proclaimed democrats.

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