Analysis from Israel

Barack Obama complained yesterday that the Iranians “have been unable to get to ‘yes'” on his proposal that they send their low-enriched uranium abroad for further enrichment. It has evidently not occurred to him that his own behavior might have anything to do with that. In fact, thanks to the administration’s amateurish negotiating tactics, Tehran’s best move for now is to keep saying no even if it ultimately intends to say yes.

Though the official deadline for an Iranian response was supposed to be last month, administration officials have repeatedly said they will give Iran until the end of the year to make a decision. In other words, Iran can keep the centrifuges spinning for another two months risk-free merely by delaying its response. So why on earth wouldn’t it choose to do so?

And then, of course, it can submit a “counterproposal” on December 31 — or more likely sometime in January, since it already knows that this administration isn’t too fussy about deadlines. That will necessitate a summit meeting among the six countries conducting the talks (the five permanent Security Council members plus Germany, known as the P5+1) so they can decide how to respond. In other words, more delay.

At best, the P5+1 will agree to negotiate, giving Tehran many more months of risk-free enrichment. From Tehran’s standpoint, that has to seem a likely outcome. Granted, U.S. officials claim they will not accept any amendment to the deal. But can anyone remember the last time Obama stuck to his guns when confronted by an autocrat who failed to be swayed by his charm?

Yet even if the counterproposal is unacceptable to the four Western countries, the ensuing wrangling is guaranteed to take weeks, if not months: Russia and China are sure to say the talks are worth pursuing no matter what the counterproposal consists of, and the West can be counted on to waste time trying to persuade them otherwise. So Tehran will still have bought more time.

Most likely, Iran has no intention of ever saying yes. Since there is no evidence that even the Western powers alone, much less Russia and China, will ever agree on a package of sanctions that would make it sit up and take notice, why should it?

But even if the powers ultimately did come up with a sanctions package intimidating enough to get Tehran to agree to the proposed deal, Obama’s negotiating method has ensured that, at the very least, Iran can gain many more months of punishment-free uranium enrichment just by dragging its feet. The mullahs would have to be idiots not to take advantage of the opportunity.

This really is Negotiating 101: no interlocutor will ever give you a prompt reply if you make it worthwhile for him to stall. Unfortunately, Obama and his team all seem to have skipped that class in college.

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How Israel’s Electoral System Brings the Country’s Fringes Into Its Center

Like Haviv Rettig Gur in “How and Why Israelis Vote,” I, too, think the advantages of Israel’s parliamentary system outweigh its disadvantages, and for essentially the same reason: because it keeps a great many people in the political system who would otherwise remain outside it.

Critics of the system’s plethora of small parties—as Gur notes, no fewer than 43 parties have been vying for Knesset seats in this year’s election—maintain that it should be streamlined and redesigned so that only big parties would be able to enter the Knesset. In that case, the critics argue, people who currently vote for small parties would simply switch their votes to large ones.

No doubt, some voters would do so—but many others would not. There are at least three groups among whom turnout would plummet if niche parties became by definition unelectable: Arabs, Ḥaredim (including some ḥaredi Zionists), and the protest voters who, in every election, propel a new “fad” party into the Knesset. (In 2015, as Gur writes, the fad party was Kulanu. This year, it’s been Moshe Feiglin’s pro-marijuana, libertarian, right-wing Zehut party, which Gur doesn’t discuss although polls have consistently showed it gaining five to seven seats.)

Together, these three groups constitute roughly a third of the country, and all three are to some extent alienated from the mainstream. If they were no longer even participating in elections, that alienation would grow.

Why does this matter? In answering that question, I’ll focus mainly on Ḥaredim and Arabs, the most significant and also the most stable of the three groups (protest voters being by nature amorphous and changeable).

It matters primarily because people who cease to see politics as a means of furthering their goals are more likely to resort to violence. Indeed, it’s no accident that most political violence in Israel has issued from quarters outside the electoral system.

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