Analysis from Israel

The run-up to Friday’s 20th anniversary of the Oslo Accords is a good time to consider not only what went wrong with the “peace process” they launched, but what a viable process would look like. You needn’t look far for answers to either question. As I noted last week, the past month alone has brought numerous examples of the problem that doomed the Oslo process from its inception: the Palestinian leadership’s utter lack of interest in making peace. As for what a viable process might look like, a good example is the new Palestinian city now arising near Ramallah.

The city of Rawabi is entirely the initiative of a private businessman: As the New York Times reported last month, the Palestinian Authority promised financial help but never delivered. And it offers a remarkable contrast to the official PA on two crucial counts. First, it’s actually seeking to improve Palestinian lives–in this case, by providing comfortable middle-class housing and quality municipal services. That’s something the PA has refused to do throughout the 19 years of its existence, despite being the world’s top recipient of international aid per capita. Second, the city’s very name (which means “hills” in Arabic) was deliberately chosen to eschew anti-Israel incitement: Its developers held a competition to name it, the Times reported, but rejected the numerous proposals that glorified anti-Israel terror, like “Arafat City” or “Jihad City.” The PA, in contrast, engages in such incitement on a daily basis.

Ordinary Palestinians feel they’ve gotten nothing from the peace process, and they’re right. That, however, is because the PA deliberately chose to give them nothing. It never used its massive infusions of aid to build, say, better housing for Palestinian refugees living in squalid West Bank camps; on the contrary, it publicly vowed that even if a Palestinian state someday arises, the refugees won’t be given citizenship. Nor did it use foreign aid to upgrade its hospitals: Patients who need state-of-the-art treatment are still routinely sent to Israel. It refuses to cooperate with Israel on mundane issues like sewage treatment that would improve Palestinian lives, and allows anti-normalization thugs from the ruling Fatah party to drive away Israeli businesses that would provide Palestinians with jobs. In short, rather than trying to help its people, the PA has done everything possible to keep them in a state of perpetual misery.

As for anti-Israel incitement, even a cursory glance at the archives of Palestinian Media Watch reveals how rampant it is. To give just a few recent examples: Fatah’s Facebook page yearns for famous female terrorists to return and teach current Palestinian women about the need for “sacrifice and blood”; organizations from dance troupes to youth groups are named after terrorists, who are held up as role models; PA officials and the PA-controlled media routinely hurl libelous accusations at Israel, such as that it’s deliberately addicting Palestinians to drugs or trying to destroy the Al-Aqsa Mosque; they also urge children to engage in anti-Israel violence and promise that Israel will someday cease to exist.

If a Palestinian leadership ever arises that prefers helping its people to perpetuating their misery and teaches its children coexistence rather than anti-Israel hatred, peace might be possible. But until then, any “peace process” will at best be a farce–and at worst a bloody tragedy like Oslo was.

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Why Israel Needs a Better Political Class

Note: This piece is a response to an essay by Haviv Rettig Gur, which can be found here

Israel’s current political crisis exemplifies the maxim that hard cases make bad law. This case is desperate. Six months after the coronavirus erupted and nine months after the fiscal year began, Israel still lacks both a functioning contact-tracing system and an approved 2020 budget, mainly because Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is more worried about politics than the domestic problems that Israel now confronts. The government’s failure to perform these basic tasks obviously invites the conclusion that civil servants’ far-reaching powers must not only be preserved, but perhaps even increased.

This would be the wrong conclusion. Bureaucrats, especially when they have great power, are vulnerable to the same ills as elected politicians. But unlike politicians, they are completely unaccountable to the public.

That doesn’t mean Haviv Rettig Gur is wrong to deem them indispensable. They provide institutional memory, flesh out elected officials’ policies, and supply information the politicians may not know and options they may not have considered. Yet the current crisis shows in several ways why they neither can nor should substitute for elected politicians.

First, bureaucrats are no less prone to poor judgment than politicians. As evidence, consider Siegal Sadetzki, part of the Netanyahu-led triumvirate that ran Israel’s initial response to the coronavirus. It’s unsurprising that Gur never mentioned Sadetzki even as he lauded the triumvirate’s third member, former Health Ministry Director General Moshe Bar Siman-Tov; she and her fellow Health Ministry staffers are a major reason why Israel still lacks a functional test-and-trace system.

Sadetzki, an epidemiologist, was the ministry’s director of public-health services and the only member of the triumvirate with professional expertise in epidemics (Bar Siman-Tov is an economist). As such, her input was crucial. Yet she adamantly opposed expanding virus testing, even publicly asserting that “Too much testing will increase complacence.” She opposed letting organizations outside the public-health system do lab work for coronavirus tests, even though the system was overwhelmed. She opposed sewage monitoring to track the spread of the virus. And on, and on.

Moreover, even after acknowledging that test-and-trace was necessary, ministry bureaucrats insisted for months that their ministry do the tracing despite its glaringly inadequate manpower. Only in August was the job finally given to the army, which does have the requisite personnel. And the system still isn’t fully operational.

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