Analysis from Israel

With Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas having retreated so far from previously agreed positions that he now even rejects Israeli sovereignty over the Western Wall (he’s willing only to let Jews pray there under Palestinian sovereignty), one might reasonably think any further discussion of final-status proposals is pointless. Yet some proposals are still worth discussing–not because they could, or even should, be adopted, but because reactions to them are so enlightening. A prime example is the Yisrael Beiteinu party’s much-maligned proposal to transfer certain Arab-Israeli towns to a Palestinian state in exchange for Israel’s retention of the settlement blocs.

Since both Israelis and Palestinians generally oppose this plan, it clearly isn’t realistic. Yet the Arab-Israeli reaction to it speaks volumes about two key issues related to the “peace process”–the nature of the future Palestinian state, and the nature of the existing Jewish state.

In an op-ed defending her party’s plan last week, Yisrael Beiteinu MK Faina Kirshenbaum noted that the UN itself explicitly condones swaps of populated territory: General Assembly Resolution 55/153, adopted in 2001, states that “When part of the territory of a State is transferred by that State to another State, the successor State shall attribute its nationality to the persons concerned who have their habitual residence in the transferred territory and the predecessor State shall withdraw its nationality from such persons.”

Moreover, almost every peace plan ever proposed demands that Israel do exactly that: quit East Jerusalem and transfer its inhabitants, all of whom are either Israeli citizens or permanent residents, to Palestinian rule (the same goes for the persistent demand that Israel return the Golan Heights to Syria). In short, there’s no barrier to the plan under international law; the objection is purely practical: Arab Israelis themselves vehemently oppose the idea.

That they don’t “want to become part of a failed, corrupt and poor new state” is perfectly understandable, Kirshenbaum continued. But a successful peace process, she argued sensibly, shouldn’t create such a state to begin with. Indeed, such a state wouldn’t even be viable: It would likely “break apart in a bloody conflict like so many of our neighbors,” and Palestinians themselves would be the main victims.

Kirshenbaum doesn’t spell out the obvious conclusion, so I will: The fact is that many Arab Israelis who “continually malign Israel” and self-identify as Palestinians nevertheless insist on remaining under Israeli rather than Palestinian rule because they, like all the people worldwide who back their opposition to Yisrael Beiteinu’s plan, do expect a Palestinian state to be “failed, corrupt and poor”–and reasonably so (see, for example, the case of Mohamed Sabawi). That raises one question: Why should anyone think bringing another failed state into the world is desirable?

This Arab-Israeli stance is equally instructive regarding the canard that Israel is an “apartheid state.” After all, if this were true, one would expect them to jump at Yisrael Beiteinu’s proposal: It would free them from “apartheid rule” without their even having to leave home, since their towns would simply become Palestinian rather than Israeli. As Prof. Alex Yakobson pungently noted in an op-ed last month:

Of course, one has the right to say: “I am a Palestinian whose Israeli ID card was forced on him, and I prefer to be subject to an apartheid regime, an oppressive, fascist, racist and colonialist regime. I prefer all this to having to live under Palestinian rule.” A person who exercises his or her democratic right to express such a position cannot prevent others from exercising their democratic right to find such a statement ridiculous.

In short, reactions to the Yisrael Beiteinu proposal illuminate two key truths that too many people refuse to acknowledge: Far from being an “apartheid state,” Israel is a thriving democracy whose Arab citizens cling zealously to the right to remain in it. And far from being ready for statehood, “Palestine” would likely become yet another failed state in a world that already has far too many.

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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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