Analysis from Israel

In 2007, the self-proclaimed Quartet of Middle East peace negotiators (comprising the U.S., UN, EU, and Russia) appointed former British Prime Minister Tony Blair as its envoy for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, financing his salary, office, staff, expenses, etc. Four years later, two conclusions are inevitable. First, the Quartet has been well-served; Blair’s situation assessments are often far more accurate than anything Quartet members seem to get from their own diplomats. Second, the Quartet is wasting its money — because his advice is steadfastly ignored.

This week, for instance, Blair warned that the Arab Spring, far from making Israeli-Palestinian peace talks more urgent, makes them almost impossible. Israel no longer knows what regional threats it may face, he explained, while Palestinian leaders will have trouble making “difficult compromises which will be tough to sell, in circumstances where they don’t know the regional context into which such compromises will be played.”

That should be obvious. After decades of stable peace with Egypt and a quiet border with Syria, Israel today enjoys neither. The past month saw two mass infiltration attempts along the Syrian border, while the signs from Egypt are worrying: The Muslim Brotherhood, as the best-organized political movement, is likely to increase its influence significantly in this fall’s planned election; Egypt has already repeatedly violated one agreement with Israel; even secular, Western-oriented politicians want to “renegotiate” the peace treaty out of existence; and 54 percent of Egyptians want it abrogated altogether.

Under these circumstances, how could Israel withdraw from the West Bank — its only remaining stable front — when its two previous withdrawals, from southern Lebanon and Gaza, both resulted in terrorist organizations (Hezbollah and Hamas, respectively) taking over and using these areas as bases for launching rockets at Israel?

Moreover, how can the Palestinian Authority make concessions when it doesn’t know whether the new Egyptian government will support it or denounce it as a traitor? Just this week, for instance, Amr Moussa, widely considered Egypt’s leading presidential contender, said he favored Israeli-Palestinian peace, but “not at any price” — a sharp departure from Egypt’s previous willingness to accept any agreement the Palestinians make, and a clear warning that he may oppose Palestinian concessions.

Similarly, how can the PA concede the refugees’ “right of return” when Damascus, which has sought to distract attention from its repression of pro-democracy protests by using Palestinian refugees in Syria against Israel, would undoubtedly use them against the PA for the same purpose?

But instead of recognizing these obvious facts, France is pushing a plan to resume negotiations in Paris this fall, while the U.S. is working on its own plan for autumn talks in Washington. That both also propose a formula entirely unacceptable to Israel — requiring it to cede the entire West Bank without any Palestinian concession on the refugees in exchange, in line with Barack Obama’s May 19 speech — is mere icing on the cake.

It would be better if the Quartet actually took Blair’s advice. But since it won’t, it may as well at least stop wasting money on an unheeded envoy.

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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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