Analysis from Israel

EU bureaucrats won’t like the comparison, but in one significant respect, the officials who approved discriminatory labeling requirements for Israeli products earlier this month bear a marked resemblance to the Palestinians who have been knifing Jews throughout Israel for weeks now. Clearly, there’s no similarity between labeling requirements and murder; the two aren’t remotely comparable. But the underlying attitude is remarkably similar: Neither the EU bureaucrats nor the Palestinian stabbers seem to care how many Palestinians they hurt as long as they can hurt a few Jews in the process.

Both the stabbings and the labeling promise to wreak havoc on the Palestinian economy – or to be more specific, on the ability of thousands of Palestinians to support themselves and their children. With regard to the violence, this ought to be self-evident. In an article earlier this month, for instance, reporter Brett Kline described the despondent mood in tourism-dependent Bethlehem now that clashes between slingshot-wielding Palestinians and Israeli soldiers have driven the tourists away. But the angriest comment, Kline reported, came from Hamadah, a construction foreman working in the Betar Ilit settlement:

He has just been informed that following the attempted stabbing of a soldier at the entrance to the settlement by a 22-year-old mother of two from Husan village across the road, work has been suspended indefinitely. And residents of Husan, home to thriving construction material depots and auto repair shops, cannot leave the village.

“What was she thinking,” he fumes, referring to the stabber. “Who the hell is she? … The woman is being fed in hospital. But how will I feed my family?

Indeed, the situation has gotten so bad that Palestinian businessmen in Hebron have begun trying to stop the violence on their own. And it could easily get worse. Last week, following a deadly attack in Tel Aviv perpetrated by a Palestinian who had just received a permit to work in Israel, the Israeli government suspended 1,200 other recently issued entry permits pending a security review. Should more permit-holders perpetrate attacks, Israel could eventually be driven to bar Palestinian laborers almost entirely, as it did during the second intifada. The impact on the Palestinian economy would be devastating: According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, 92,000 Palestinians work in Israel (not including the settlements). That’s 13 percent of all employed Palestinians in the West Bank.

Yet the labeling requirement could prove almost as deadly for the West Bank economy, because for all the EU’s claims that it simply wants to “give consumers accurate information,” it’s obvious that the goal is to ultimately shut down Israeli businesses in the territories, either by making them unprofitable or simply by persuading owners that the new labeling rules are more hassle than relocating would be. Indeed, several companies have already reached that very conclusion in recent years, the most famous being SodaStream, which relocated from the West Bank to the Negev in September.

Israeli businesses in the territories, however, rely almost exclusively on Palestinian labor. Around 20,300 Palestinians are employed in the settlements, according to the PCBS; that’s almost 3 percent of the West Bank’s employed Palestinians. And other Palestinians work as suppliers to Israeli businesses. Thus every business closure or relocation throws hundreds of Palestinians out of work; the Israeli Foreign Ministry estimates that in total, 30,000 Palestinians could lose their jobs.

That price might be justifiable if Palestinians themselves considered it worth paying. But, in fact, they don’t. Just this past June, a poll commissioned by the Washington Institute found that fully 55 percent of West Bank residents wanted “to see Israeli companies offer more jobs inside” the West Bank (emphasis added).

Granted, both the Palestinian Authority and Palestinian NGOs back the EU’s move. But that’s because neither PA officials nor NGO officials have to worry about making a living; both enjoy lavish European funding.

Ordinary Palestinians, in contrast, do have to worry about how they’re going to feed their families. That’s why Shaher Saad, secretary general of the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions, publicly urged PA President Mahmoud Abbas to prevent the closure of Israeli industrial parks in the West Bank as long as no suitable employment alternatives exist: He was reflecting the views of the people he represents – ordinary workers.

K., a Palestinian employed by an Israeli date farm in the West Bank who says everyone in his village works for Israelis, summed up the problem succinctly in a recent newspaper interview:

“Labeling is a mistake, because workers will have a problem with it,” he said. “If products won’t be sold, where will we work? A marketing problem means a problem for us with employment.”

But for all the similarity in the economic impact of their actions, there’s one important difference between the knife-wielding Palestinians and the EU bureaucrats. The stabbers are overwhelmingly teenagers, and nobody seriously expects teenagers to think through the consequences of their actions. The EU bureaucrats, in contrast, are ostensibly responsible adults, who are supposed to know better.

Originally published in Commentary on November 25, 2015

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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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