Analysis from Israel

As Omri noted yesterday, Washington is backing Beirut against Jerusalem in their dispute over the Israel-Lebanon maritime border. But by doing so, it isn’t merely cozying up to Hezbollah. It’s actively rewarding aggression – and encouraging war.

Israel and Lebanon never had an agreed upon maritime border. But Lebanon did reach an as-yet unratified agreement with Cyprus in 2007, and Jerusalem and Nicosia later negotiated their own maritime border based on this Lebanon-Cyprus agreement. Last year, however, after Israel announced lucrative gas finds in the Mediterranean Sea, Lebanon gave the UN a new map asserting a border well south of the line demarcated in its agreement with Cyprus. By moving the border south, Lebanon also intruded into territory that Israel claims as its Exclusive Economic Zone.

This sequence of events makes it clear Lebanon is trying to grab territory it never previously considered its own solely to horn in on Israel’s newly discovered gas reserves. As such, the U.S. should have rejected it out of hand. Instead, it reportedly endorsed the new Lebanese map without  even seeking Israel’s response, then told Israel it should either accept the fait accompli or agree to mediation by the notoriously anti-Israel UN, in order to avoid creating an “underwater Shaba Farms.”

Shaba Farms is the territory Hezbollah claimed as Lebanese following Israel’s pullout from Lebanon in order to create a pretext for its continued attacks on Israel. The UN Security Council certified that withdrawal as complete to the last inch in 2000, as UN mapping experts concluded Shaba wasn’t Lebanese.

But after Hezbollah proved in 2006 it was willing to go to war to back its claim, the Security Council rewarded its aggression: Instead of upholding its previous decision, it adopted Resolution 1701, which ordered the UN to demarcate Lebanon’s border wherever it is “disputed or uncertain,” including in Shaba, and created a new mapping commission to do so. The Bush administration subsequently pressured Israel (unsuccessfully) to cede Shaba, bizarrely arguing that rewarding Hezbollah’s aggression would weaken the organization rather than strengthen it.

Beirut clearly learned the lesson: Aggression pays. So now, it’s repeating the tactic. And the Obama administration has adopted its predecessor’s bizarre theory that appeasement will end Lebanon’s aggression rather than encouraging it.

This is particularly irresponsible given the flammable regional context. Hezbollah, which controls Lebanon, has already threatened to go to war with Israel to relieve Western pressure on the Assad regime; Washington has now given it the ideal pretext by assuring it of America’s  backing on this issue.

Moreover, terrorists have just blown up the Egyptian-Israeli gas pipeline for the fourth time in six months. With only 20 percent to 30 percent of the contracted gas from Egypt actually arriving, Israel has had to purchase much more expensive substitutes and now faces an economically brutal 20 percent hike in electricity rates to cover these costs. Israel’s own maritime gas reserves have therefore become critical to its economy, meaning it will presumably fight to defend them.

Thus, by rewarding Lebanon’s aggression, Washington has made war more likely. Can anyone say “smart diplomacy”?

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Israel’s constitutional crisis has been postponed, not resolved

After years of leftists crying wolf about democracy being endangered, Israel finally experienced a real constitutional crisis last week. That crisis was temporarily frozen by the decision to form a unity government, but it will come roaring back once the coronavirus crisis has passed.

It began with Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein’s refusal to let the newly elected Knesset vote to replace him as speaker and culminated in two interventions by the High Court of Justice. I’m one of very few people on my side of the political spectrum who considers the court’s initial intervention justifiable. But its second was an unprecedented usurpation of the prerogatives of another branch of government, in flagrant violation of legislation that the court itself deems constitutional.

Edelstein’s refusal, despite its terrible optics, stemmed from a genuine constitutional concern, and was consequently backed even by Knesset legal adviser Eyal Yinon, who had opposed Edelstein many times before and would do so again later in this saga. The problem was that neither political bloc could form a government on its own, yet the proposed new speaker came from the faction of Benny Gantz’s Blue and White Party that adamantly opposed a unity government. Thus whether a unity government was formed or Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s caretaker government continued, the new speaker would be in the opposition.

But as Yinon told the court, speakers have always come from the governing coalition because an opposition speaker can effectively stymie all government work. And once elected, he would be virtually impossible to oust, since 90 of the Knesset’s 120 members must vote to do so. An opposition speaker would thus “hurt democracy,” warned Yinon. “We’re planting a bug in the system, and this, too, undermines our constitutional fabric.” That’s why Edelstein wanted to wait, as Knesset bylaws permit, until a government was formed and could choose its own speaker.

Yet despite this genuine and serious concern, the fact remains that a newly elected majority was being barred from exercising its power. Moreover, it had no parliamentary way of solving the problem because only the speaker can convene parliament and schedule a vote. Thus if you believe majorities should be allowed to govern, the court was right to intervene by ordering Edelstein to hold the vote.

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