Analysis from Israel

The spat between New York Times columnist Roger Cohen and Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad must be afflicting liberals with severe cognitive dissonance. But there’s a very important lesson to be drawn from it.

The contretemps began when Cohen published a column on Friday that included numerous direct quotes from Fayyad, many of which were highly unflattering to the Palestinian Authority’s ruling party, Fatah. “This party, Fatah, is going to break down, there is so much disenchantment,” Cohen quoted Fayyad as saying. “Our story is a story of failed leadership, from way early on. It is incredible that the fate of the Palestinian people has been in the hands of leaders so entirely casual, so guided by spur-of-the-moment decisions, without seriousness. We don’t strategize, we cut deals in a tactical way and we hold ourselves hostage to our own rhetoric.”

Fayyad promptly issued a denial. “The statements in the article are just journalist Roger Cohen’s personal impressions, and certainly not the words of Fayyad, who did not make any statements or conduct interviews for the New York Times or any other newspaper or agency since his resignation,” his statement declared. He also accused the paper of “forgery that carries political dimensions with the goal of causing damage and fomenting strife in order to serve positions that are hostile to the Palestinians and their national project at this sensitive and critical phase.”

So to put it bluntly, either the star columnist for America’s leading liberal newspaper fabricated quotes and put them in the mouth of a man he never even spoke with, or America’s favorite Palestinian leader just told a bald-faced lie.

To anyone familiar with the Palestinian scene, it’s not hard to conclude that the liar is Fayyad: He’s the one whose life is literally on the line. One Fatah legislator has already called for indicting him on charges of “crimes against the Palestinian people.” But the more serious danger is that Fatah has plenty of experienced killers with no qualms about shooting fellow Palestinians who upset them: See, for instance, the assassinations and attempted assassinations of a senior PA security officer, a Fatah legislator and a governor of Jenin, all attributed by Palestinians to a power struggle between rival Fatah groups.

But this incident ought to give pause to anyone who is quick to believe every Palestinian atrocity story about Israel. Fayyad has bodyguards; he enjoys the protection of being in the international spotlight; and international credibility is his essential stock-in-trade. Thus, if even he feels threatened enough to risk his credibility by telling bald-faced lies to protect himself, that’s all the more true of ordinary Palestinians, who lack Fayyad’s protections and don’t care about their overseas credibility.

For a Palestinian, it’s always safest to accuse Israel of brutality and abuse, even if the accusations are completely false, because Israeli soldiers won’t kill him for such libels–whereas Palestinian gunmen very well might murder him as a “collaborator” if he went on record as saying, for instance, that Israeli soldiers treated him decently.           

So perhaps next time, Westerners should stop and think before uncritically accepting Palestinian atrocity tales as truth. For if Fayyad could so brazenly lie about Cohen, then other Palestinians could just as easily be lying about Israel.

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Israel’s unity government may prove a constitutional time bomb

That Israel will soon have a government is good news; almost any government would be better than the political dysfunction that has produced three elections in the past year. But aside from its existence, there’s little to like about this “unity” government.

The biggest problem isn’t that many important issues will perforce go unaddressed, though that’s inevitable given the compromises required when neither bloc can govern on its own. Nor is it the risk that the government will be dysfunctional even on “consensual” issues like rescuing the economy from the coronavirus crisis, though this risk is real, since both sides’ leaders will have veto power over every government decision.

Rather, it’s the cavalier way that Israel’s Basic Laws are being amended to serve the particular needs of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his new partner, Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz.

Though Israel’s Supreme Court wrongly claims the Basic Laws are a constitution, they were never intended as such by the parliaments that passed them. Indeed, some were approved by a mere quarter of the Knesset or less.

But they were intended as the building blocks of a future constitution should Israel ever adopt one. That’s why this handful of laws, alone of all the laws on Israel’s books, are deemed “Basic Laws,” and why each addresses a fundamental constitutional issue (the executive branch, the legislature, the judiciary, human rights, Israel’s Jewish character, etc.).

In other words, though they aren’t a constitution, they do serve as the foundation of Israel’s system of government. And tinkering with the architecture of any democratic system of government can have unintended consequences, as Israel has discovered before to its detriment.

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