The New Year has begun and Yom Kippur is behind us. Two prominent issues wait for treatment: peace with the Palestinians and a response to domestic social protest. The Prime Minister says that he is working hard to achieve both goals. Optimists are asking themselves if they can expect decisive action a bit more than a week from now after we have passed through the holiday of Succot. Realists are echoing the comment attributed to Angela Merkel ("I don't believe a word he says"), and not expecting anything.
The issue of peace with the Palestinians is different from social protest, but what is common is the likelihood that neither will find a solution in the near future.
The peace process is best viewed as political theater rather than serious business. Not only should one temper expectations about Prime Minister Netanyahu's sincerity. One should also temper the credibility assigned to the choir singing Peace Now, being led by the Obama White House with the participation of just about every national leader expressing support for a Palestinian state.
It is wise to view the commitments of Washington and European capitals to peace between Israel and the Palestinians, and the establishment of a Palestinian state in the same way as we should view the insistence of the same worthies, expressed time and again since 9-11, that their quarrel is not with Islam. That is another theatrical performance, whose function is to do what is possible to sooth the feelings of Muslims who might be kept out of the fight, while the armies of western countries have invaded a number of Muslim countries and have spent more than a decade pursuing and killing those many Muslims defined as terrorists. The collateral damage has been considerable, and entirely suffered by Muslims.
One might wonder why Benyamin Netanyahu enrages the likes of Angela Merkel and others. A more honest posture would be to admit that there is no hope for peace given the problems within Palestine, and asserting that Israel will continue to build in the major settlement blocs and throughout Jerusalem. But that would get in the way of the chorus being led by the White House about the importance of peace and the goodness of Islam. Anyone expecting tiny Israel--or any European power--to issue a direct challenge to the leadership of the White House cannot claim to understand the ABCs (or Alephs and Bets) of international politics.
The Prime Minister's posture with respect to the social protest reflects another kind of calculation. Many of the protesters appear to be individuals who voted for losing parties at the last election, and intent on getting by street demonstrations what they could not achieve via their ballots.
Moreover, the demonstrators are weakened by lacking a mechanism for screening all of the demands being heard, as well as a tendency of many of them to distrust politicians. Leaders of opposition parties found themselves poorly treated when they went to the tents in order to show their support.
On the other hand, it is also taught in the primary school of politics that no politician should speak openly against a movement able to muster several hundred thousand marchers on two separate occasions.
For this reason, the Prime Minister appointed a committee to produce a program of reform, and has said that he wants the government to support its recommendations.
How serious is he?
That will be tested not only by a vote of the ministers comprising the government, but also to the extent that the Prime Minister and his colleagues work in tandem to enact the committee's recommendations in the Knesset, obtain the necessary funding from the Finance Ministry, and achieve implementation by the various administrative bodies to be given new responsibilities.
That will take a while to accomplish, even in the best of circumstances. Meanwhile, there are a host of weighty actors who have indicated their reservations. Ultra-Orthodox and Russian politicians have not found their primary concerns being addressed by the reform proposals being considered. Industrialists and other employers are speaking against provisions that will increase their taxes and constrain their employment practices. Key personnel in the Defense Ministry and the IDF oppose the proposal to obtain much of the money for the reforms by cutting their budgets. Various leaders of the protest movement have been loud in ridiculing the suggestions for not even making a dent on the problems they perceive in the economy or society.
You have heard of activists who will sacrifice the good in order to achieve the perfect. Individuals leading street demonstrations are speaking the language of perfectionists rather than politicians.
The issue of peace with the Palestinians and the holiday of Succot may come together to produce their own problem for the social protests.
Succot is one of the holidays (along with Passover and Shavuot) when Jews were ordered to Jerusalem in order to bring sacrifices to the Temple. There has not been a Temple for almost 2,000 years, but now thousands of Jews come to Jerusalem, the Old City, and especially the Western Wall during those holidays. On several occasions Arabs on the Temple Mount have lobbed stones down on the the crowds at the Western Wall, leading police and army units to respond. The looming issue of peace, and Palestinian efforts to gain their state via the United Nations may make this Succot an especially ripe opportunity for a problem that gets out of hand. Moreover, a radical Jewish movement has been desecrating Muslim sites under the heading of "Price Tag," presumably in retribution for Muslim attacks against Jews. One need not decide "who started it" in order to conclude that "Price Tag" will add to the tinder abuilding, and may set us on a road where neither a Palestinian state nor social reform is a likely outcome.
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Posted by Ira Sharkansky at October 08, 2011 01:03 PM