Analysis from Israel

The run-up to the Palestinians’ UN bid has produced many surreal moments, but it would be hard to top this one: The U.S. and Europe are pressuring Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu not to penalize the Palestinian Authority following the UN vote. In other words, the “international community” is urging the PA be allowed to violate its previous signed agreements with total impunity. And then, in the same breath, it’s urging Israel to sign a final-status agreement entailing much greater concessions in exchange for “international guarantees” it’s just proven it won’t enforce.

A brief reminder: The UN gambit blatantly violates the 1995 Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement, which states that “Neither side shall initiate or take any step that will change the status of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip pending the outcome of the permanent status negotiations.” Clearly, recognizing these territories as a state would change their status drastically. The U.S. and EU both signed this agreement as witnesses, as did Russia, Egypt, Jordan and Norway.

Now, most of these witnesses plan to vote in favor when the PA asks the UN to effectively tear up this agreement later this month, and even those who plan to
vote against are demanding the PA suffer no penalties for its bad faith. Yet if the Palestinians can tear up this agreement with impunity, why should Israel believe they won’t be allowed to tear up a final-status agreement with equal impunity? And in that case, why should it risk the drastic concessions a final-status agreement would entail?

Another brief reminder: UN Security Council Resolution 242, which has been the foundational document of the peace process since 1967 and is referenced in
every Israeli-Palestinian agreement, was explicitly worded to ensure Israel would not have to return to the 1967 lines (as I explained  here). That was the international guarantee every Israeli government relied on in negotiations with the Palestinians. Even Gilead Sher, a dove who served as one of Israel’s chief negotiators in final-status talks with the Palestinians in 2000-2001, stressed recently this assurance remains critical to Israel: While the final border may well end up being the “1967 lines plus land swaps,” he wrote, using this as the starting point “puts the onus on Israel and constrains the range of negotiation” over this issue, making it harder for Israel to secure border adjustments it deems vital.

But most of the same countries that approved this resolution in 1967 now plan to recognize a Palestinian state in the 1967 lines later this month, effectively
tearing up the guarantee they gave Israel 44 years ago. So why should Israel trust the international community to uphold whatever guarantees it might give as part of a final-status agreement?

If the world seriously wants Israel to have the confidence to make far-reaching concessions for a final-status agreement, it ought to be strictly honoring its own commitments to Israel while severely punishing the Palestinians for violating theirs. Instead, it’s doing the exact opposite. And then it wonders why most Israelis are reluctant to keep making such concessions.

 

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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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