Analysis from Israel

Has anyone noticed that the last remaining justification for Israel’s unilateral pullout from the Gaza Strip has just disappeared? Proponents’ claims that the pullout would bring peace, security, and international support have long since been disproven; what it actually brought was 16,500 rockets and mortars fired at Israel from Gaza–including 13,800 before the current war began–and unprecedented international vitriol every time Israel tried to fight back (see the current anti-Semitic pogroms in Europe or the infamous Goldstone Report). Yet disengagement supporters still had one trump card to play: “At least our soldiers aren’t dying in Gaza anymore.” And to many Israelis, that gain was worth the terrible price.

But now, Israeli soldiers are once again dying in Gaza, at a rate that wipes out all the gains of the previous few years. Here are the figures, compiled from B’Tselem statistics:

Between the start of the second intifada, in September 2000, and the pullout in August 2005, 87 Israeli soldiers were killed in Gaza. Over the next eight years, it’s not true that no soldiers died in Gaza, but military fatalities did drop significantly: Altogether, 33 soldiers were killed either in Gaza or in southern Israel by fire from Gaza.

Even that “achievement” is actually an indictment of the disengagement, because in the West Bank, which Israel didn’t quit, military fatalities fell far more sharply: from 136 between September 2000 and August 2005 to just 13 in the subsequent nine years. But since Operation Protective Edge began earlier this month, even this meager gain has disappeared: 53 soldiers have so far been killed in or by attacks from Gaza, and the number will likely continue climbing as the operation progresses. In other words, Gaza has now claimed 86 military fatalities from Israel since the pullout–almost identical to the 87 it claimed during the second intifada–even as military fatalities have fallen sharply in the West Bank.

In contrast, had the Israel Defense Forces remained in Gaza, military fatalities would almost certainly have registered a decline similar to that in the West Bank, because Hamas wouldn’t have been able do either of the two things that are now costing so many soldiers their lives: smuggle in vast quantities of sophisticated weaponry or build an extensive network of attack tunnels.

The bottom line, therefore, is that the last remaining “achievement” of the Gaza pullout has proved as chimerical as all its other vaunted achievements: The pullout hasn’t saved soldiers’ lives; it has almost certainly cost them.

To be clear, I never liked the argument that saving soldiers’ lives was worth the cost of incessant rocket fire on the south; soldiers are supposed to put their lives on the line to protect civilians, not the other way around. But I understand why it was so persuasive to many Israelis: Almost every Israeli has a father, husband, brother, or son in the army, while far fewer have relatives and friends in rocket-battered southern communities; thus many Israelis felt they personally benefited from the tradeoff, even if other Israelis were paying the price.

Now, however, even that illusion is gone: By quitting Gaza, not only has Israel gotten 16,500 rockets and mortars on its country, but it hasn’t saved the life of a single soldier. In fact, it has almost certainly lost more soldiers than it would have had it stayed.

Israel may have no choice but to reoccupy Gaza someday. But whether it does or not, one thing is crystal clear: It would be insane to repeat this experiment in the West Bank.

Originally published in Commentary 

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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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