6/26/19 Economic Peace Plan Israeli Poltical Turmoil

Perhaps it’s due to the summer heat that has engulfed Tel Aviv like a steam cloud, but the world seems just a bit upside down. On Tuesday evening, I sat in the i24News studio and listened to Jared Kushner speak, as he opened the Economic Conference in Bahrain, aimed at  identifying and implementing the start of the economic component of a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The absurdity and disconnect from reality of his remarks seemed to permeate the air. 

Kushner spoke about how the Palestinian economy suffers from the fact its borders are armed. He cited one Palestinian businessman who complained how hard it was to get concrete for new construction. Kushner accentuated the difficulty of getting foreign investment, given that people fear terror. These things are true. However, the predicament is that the only way to solve these problems is to reach a political agreement to end the conflict. Kushner’s exhilarating address was one of the most paradigmatic cases of placing the cart before the horse. 

Yes, it's terrific to talk about what could happen if there was peace. However, the ideas Kushner presented have been raised in a variety of formats and configurations over the course of the past 50 years. Yet, little is likely possible, without first reaching a political settlement. Twenty years ago, the concept of “a new Middle East” was the dream promoted by the late Israeli President Shimon Peres, in attempts to induce Israelis to agree to concessions for the sake of peace. In short, Peres promised that Israel would thrive in a Middle East at peace. He was no doubt correct. Be that as it may, be, Israel managed to thrive without achieving peace. 

Kushner is trying to sell a new version of the Peres plan to persuade Palestinians to make unclear concessions, in order to reach a brighter future. Never mind the fact that with Israel’s severe labor shortage, there is no doubt the Palestinian economy could easily thrive, if peace were to break out — even without the new Trump plan. Of course, chances of this plan ever succeeding were not helped by the ridiculous OpEd article written by Israel's UN Ambassador Danny Danon in the New York Times, titled: “What is wrong with Palestinian surrender — Knowing when to give up is often the first step to making peace”. In the article, Danon compared the Kushner plan to the Marshall Plan. This analogy might have been ok, but, in the title, Danon states the Palestinians should admit “defeat," in order to receive aid, as Germany was given after the war. This assertion is a stunning example of how little Danon understands about the role of honor in national politics. 

Once Kushner ended his address, after the other guest and I completed our remarks, I turned to the anchor, Ayman Sikseck (an Arab Israeli author from Jaffa), as we walked out of the studio and we both agreed how profoundly sad we were that after all these many years nothing has changed, nothing has progressed. 

By last night, as the heat of the day receded, a little new insanity spread through Israeli political circles. The Likud (Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's party) had suddenly decided — in contravention of the accepted rules — that the new election, which they had forced by dissolving the Knesset, (before the President could assign the job to someone other than Netanyahu), should now be canceled. Within hours, all of the Likud ministers and the potential coalition partners who had voted to dissolve the Knesset a mere month ago, were singing the same song. All of a sudden, Likud ministers declared that a new election is “too expensive,” “would not change anything,” and moreover, “the people do not want a new election”.  

There was some attempt to claim the Likud was in negotiations with Gantz’s Blue and White Party to form a broad Unity coalition. Though when the B&W party leadership categorically denied any sort of negotiations had taken place, that line of rhetoric was dropped. Despite the fact that every legal opinion presented all agree there was no legitimate way to turn back the clock, talk of canceling the new election has not stopped. Prime Minister Netanyahu tweeted he would meet with the speaker of the Knesset (#2 in the Likud party list) to discuss the cancellation proposal. 

Perhaps it is the heat speaking, but the only path to call off the upcoming election would be to change one of Israel’s Basic Laws (i.e., Israel’s quasi-constitution). While it is true that, only 61 votes are required to change a Basic Law, legal experts all agree that since the Knesset voted to dissolve itself, it no longer has the authority to alter any Basic Laws.

While Israelis, like most people, would love to forget about politics and current events, and just enjoy their summer, with ever larger numbers of daily incendiary balloon attacks from Gaza, and with Iranian threats to violate its commitment on enrichment of uranium, not to mention, another election coming in September, which will include several additional people running (e.g. Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, who announced the formation of new party on Wednesday evening) … it is going to be a long, hot summer.


Rabin Square Memorial Service