Analysis from Israel

Under pressure from his own party’s opposition to “normalization” with Israel, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas yesterday canceled a meeting with Israeli Knesset members who had formed a caucus to support the recently revived peace talks. Normally, this would call the whole point of peace talks into question: Someone too scared of the anti-normalization thugs to host a meaningless gabfest with Israeli MKs isn’t likely to have the guts to sign a final-status agreement containing real Palestinian concessions. But in this case, anyone paying attention to Palestinian behavior since the talks began already knew they were nothing but a farce.

The following are just a few of the steps Palestinians have taken over the last month to prove their lack of desire for peace:

  • The PA sent a letter to governments worldwide asserting that Israelis–all Israelis–are “terrorists” and “criminals,” whereas Palestinians who bomb school buses and Passover seders and murder elderly Holocaust survivors are “political prisoners” and “freedom fighters” who fight “in accordance to international law.” To say the least, that’s a novel interpretation of international law’s prohibition on deliberately targeting civilians.
  • The PA has already threatened to violate its promise not to pursue action against Israel in international forums while talks are continuing–the main promise it made in exchange for Israel’s phased release of 104 Palestinian prisoners. So what heinous Israeli “war crimes” and “anti-human racist acts” (to quote the PLO’s Executive Committee) sparked this threat? Announcing new construction plans in East Jerusalem neighborhoods and major settlement blocs that everyone knows will remain Israeli under any peace deal anyway–and which, as even Secretary of State John Kerry acknowledged, violates no Israeli promises.
  • This week, Abbas clarified that he won’t do any such thing until all 104 prisoners have been released. But once that irreversible concession has been pocketed, he promised to immediately resume UN action against Israel. In short, the talks are simply a vehicle for wringing more unilateral concessions from Israel.
  • After four years of refusing to talk to Israel at all, Abbas is now complaining that progress is impossible because the parties aren’t meeting often enough, and because he hasn’t yet met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu–the very man whose repeated pleas for a meeting he steadfastly rejected during those four years. And also, of course, because America actually wants the sides to conduct bilateral negotiations: The Palestinians want trilateral negotiations, warning that talks are doomed if America doesn’t “play a direct role” and “assert itself in the peace process”–Palestinian-speak for forcing Israel to capitulate wholesale to Palestinian demands.
  • During a “peace mission” by the FC Barcelona soccer team, Palestinians vetoed Barca’s idea of playing an exhibition match against a joint Israeli-Palestinian team. They also refused to allow Israelis to attend Barca’s exhibition in Ramallah, even though Israel invited Palestinians to Barca’s exhibition in Tel Aviv-Jaffa. As one Israeli official noted, such behavior hardly promotes a spirit of “peace and reconciliation.”
  • Pressure from anti-normalization activists also forced two Arab businessmen to scrap plans to open a branch of an Israeli clothing chain in Ramallah. The PA made no effort to counteract this pressure, even though the store would have employed almost 150 Palestinians.

I could go on, but the point seems clear: The PA has no interest whatsoever in making peace. So isn’t it about time for the world to stop pretending that it does?

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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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