Analysis from Israel

Last week, I wrote about a Palestinian author who refused to participate in a panel discussion with an Israeli at a French literary conference. But it turns out this wasn’t the author’s private initiative: Boycotting all Israelis, even those most opposed to the Netanyahu government, is now official Palestinian Authority policy – even as the PA tells the world its problem isn’t with Israel, but only with Benjamin Netanyahu’s “right-wing” policies.

The new policy was announced this weekend by Hatem Abdel Kader, a senior official in PA President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party. “We will try to thwart any Palestinian-Israeli meeting,” he said. “In Fatah we have officially decided to ban such gatherings.” And it’s already being implemented in practice, as The Jerusalem Post reported: Organized mobs of Palestinian protesters recently forced the cancellation of two Israeli-Palestinian conferences sponsored by a civil-society group. And Sari Nusseibeh, who was supposed to speak at one, didn’t even show up due to threats from the anti-normalization thugs.

I can’t dispute Abdel Kader’s assertion that most such conferences are a waste of time, because participants usually represent neither the Israeli nor the Palestinian mainstream. But that’s a far cry from banning them – especially if the PA were being truthful when it claims its only problem is the Netanyahu government. After all, the Israelis who attend such conferences are generally Netanyahu’s most vociferous critics, and vocal advocates of greater Israeli concessions to the Palestinians. If the PA isn’t even willing to countenance dialogue with them, which Israelis would it be willing to talk to?

Moreover, how is such a boycott supposed to persuade mainstream Israelis to favor the concessions the PA claims to want? Granted, Israeli activists’ enthusiastic reports of Palestinian “moderation” at such meetings have thus far had little impact; to most Israelis, Palestinian actions – from the rampant terror that followed Israeli withdrawals in the West Bank and Gaza to the PA’s serial rejection of statehood offers – speak louder than words. But is a refusal to talk to any Israeli at all a more convincing demonstration of Palestinian moderation?

Finally, the official reason given for the ban is bizarre: Fatah reportedly “fears that the Israeli government would exploit such meetings to tell the world that there is some kind of dialogue going on between Israelis and Palestinians and that the only problem is with the PA leadership, which is refusing to return to the negotiating table.” Given that the entire world has publicly blamed Israel for the impasse, why would Fatah fear any such thing?

One can only conclude that Fatah, unlike the rest of the world, knows the truth: The PA is the one that has steadfastly refused to negotiate, first imposing new conditions like a settlement freeze and then refusing to talk even if Israel accedes, as it did by declaring an unprecedented 10-month construction moratorium. And Fatah is desperately afraid Westerners will finally catch on.

So far, they haven’t. But they should. Because a Palestinian government that bans dialogue even with Israel’s far left is patently unready to make peace with Israel.

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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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