Analysis from Israel

Yesterday, I noted that a UN Security Council endorsement of “a two-state solution based on the June 4, 1967 borders,” such as Mahmoud Abbas is seeking, would radically alter the existing international position, prejudice the outcome of negotiations, and probably spark an escalating war of unilateral moves and countermoves. But it would also have another deleterious effect: it would provide further proof that international guarantees to Israel are worthless. And because reliable international guarantees will be a necessary part of any Israeli-Palestinian agreement, this would make a deal significantly less likely.

After all, Resolution 242 was the strongest international guarantee anyone could hope for: a binding Security Council resolution that, as explained yesterday, explicitly assured Israel that it would not have to withdraw to the 1967 lines. And all subsequent Israeli governments relied on this assurance: while Labor and Likud governments disagreed over where Israel’s final border should run, each built settlements in those areas they thought Israel would retain under any peace deal.

Thus if the Security Council were to change its mind now and retroactively invalidate the guarantee it gave Israel in 242, it could clearly change its mind on anything — meaning that Israel could not rely on any international guarantee it might receive as part of a final-status deal.

In truth, the Security Council has already made this pretty clear, via its treatment of Resolution 1310, which certified Israel’s unilateral pullout from Lebanon in 2000 as complete to the last inch. Almost immediately after that resolution passed, Hezbollah began insisting that the pullout was not complete because Israel still occupied the “Lebanese territory” of Shaba Farms. Yet UN experts had previously determined that Shaba was Syrian, not Lebanese, and that determination served as the basis for both Israel’s pullout and the subsequent Security Council endorsement.

But instead of sticking by this endorsement, the international community quickly backtracked: in 2006, the Security Council unanimously passed Resolution 1701, which ordered the UN to delineate “the international borders of Lebanon, especially in those areas where the border is disputed or uncertain, including by dealing with the Shebaa farms area.” The UN subsequently set up a new mapping commission to do so. And while the commission has yet to submit its final conclusions, the Israeli press reported two years ago already that it intends to declare Shaba Lebanese

This sends a pretty clear message: there’s no such thing as a “final” border for Israel; anytime an Arab state demands additional territory, the UN will happily scrap its own previous determination of the “final” border and favorably consider the new Arab request.

Nevertheless, many Israelis still view this as an aberration rather than a precedent. If the Security Council decides to scrap 242 as well, that illusion will be even harder to maintain.

Hence before considering Abbas’s proposal, the council ought to ask itself how many promises to Israel it can violate before even the most optimistic Israelis conclude that no such promise can be trusted — and whether that really serves the cause of peace.

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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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