Analysis from Israel

Yesterday, I asked why Israel should keep signing agreements with the Palestinians if the world won’t enforce previous ones? This question has an important corollary: Why should Israel keep making concessions if it gets no credit for previous ones?

A recent New York Times editorial demonstrates the problem in microcosm. While various parties share blame for the Israeli-Palestinian impasse, it opined, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “has been the most intractable, building settlements and blaming his inability to be more forthcoming on his conservative coalition.”

In reality, Netanyahu is the only prime minister in Israel’s history to impose a 10-month moratorium on settlement construction, a move even Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared “unprecedented.” Indeed, there has been less construction in the West Bank – and East Jerusalem – during his term than under his predecessors. But he gets no credit for this; instead, he’s the premier who obstructs peace by “building settlements.” So what incentive would he have to make further such gestures?

As for being insufficiently “forthcoming,” Netanyahu, like all his predecessors, has repeatedly expressed willingness to cede most of the West Bank; what he’s refused to do is cede the entire territory in advance. By contrast, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas hasn’t yet agreed to cede anything Israel wants (settlement blocs, the “right of return,” recognition as a Jewish state, etc.), but the Times omits him entirely from its list of parties who share the blame. So Netanyahu, who has already ceded most of the West Bank, is “intractable,” but Abbas, who has ceded nothing, is blame-free. Given this, what incentive does Netanyahu have to make further concessions?

The problem, of course, is that on this issue, the Times accurately reflects the international consensus – not merely on Netanyahu, but on Israel as a whole. For the last 18 years, Israel has offered nonstop concessions. It evacuated territory and uprooted settlements; it repeatedly offered a Palestinian state in most of the West Bank, Gaza and parts of East Jerusalem; it even offered to cede Judaism’s holiest site, the Temple Mount. Throughout this period, Palestinians haven’t offered one single reciprocal concession – not the settlement blocs, not the “right of return,” not recognition of a Jewish state; they won’t even acknowledge the Jews’ historical connection to this land. Yet still, the world deems Israel the “intransigent” party, the one that must concede even more. Hence most of the Quartet (comprising the U.S., EU, UN and Russia) thinks the appropriate recipe for restarting talks is to demand yet another new concession of Israel -accepting the 1967 lines upfront – while still demanding nothing of the Palestinians.

The consequence of this behavior is that fully 77 percent of Israeli Jews have concluded “it makes no difference what Israel does and how far it may go on the Palestinian issue; the world will continue to be very critical of it.” And if there’s no quid pro quo for concessions in the form of increased international support, there’s obviously no point in continuing to make them.

The only surprising thing is, the world still seems to find this reaction surprising.

 

Subscribe to Evelyn’s Mailing List

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.

Read more
Archives