Why Israel would never evacuate settlements without considerable outside pressure

Posted: April 22nd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: The Left, The Right, The Settlements, the US and us | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

(a short exercise in rational choice)

Many people, including supporters of the two state solution, have argued recently that the United States should not apply pressure on Israel in order to make it leave the West Bank. Their basic claim is that since evacuating the West Bank is in the long term interest of Israel, Israel, being a democracy, would do so itself, when the right time will come (for example, when it will face a reliable Palestinian leadership and receive assurances for its security). The role of the international community, these people argue, is to create the right conditions for such withdrawal. In Obama’s White House, it is said that Dennis Ross holds such view.

I will try to explain why I disagree with this approach, using something like a Rational Choice model. In short, Rational Choice theory claims that all humans try to maximize advantages by weighting costs against benefits when taking decisions. It sounds pretty self-evident, but there has been a lot of criticism regarding this notion. People might also argue that putting the Middle East and “rational” in the same sentence is somewhat absurd. However, I think that this could be a useful exercise for understanding the political dynamics in Israel. The main advantage of this line of reasoning is that it frees us from questions of ideology or character, which tend to blur our judgment.

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The basic assumption of this model is that no leader will take an action that is likely to bring his downfall. In this context, we should remember that Israel’s political system is very unstable. It is one of the most direct systems in the West, which makes it very easy to bring down a Prime Minister.

Let’s look at Benjamin Netanyahu’s government: if he even declares he is going to evacuate settlements, let alone split Jerusalem, his rightwing partners will leave his government. Theoretically, Kadima and Labor could save him in the name of peace, but Tzipi Livni and Ehud Barak are rational actors as well (for the sake of this debate. Nobody knows what goes on in Barak’s mind). What do you think will happen when they have a shot at getting Netanyahu out of the way and going immediately to elections? Naturally, they won’t do it over the peace process, because their voters would punish them. It will be on some side issue, but the outcome will be just the same: the government falls and we would have elections.

Netanyahu, of all people, knows that: this is exactly what happened to him in his previous term as PM: after hesitating for two years, he handed Hebron to the Palestinians. The settlers left the government, the Left imposed new elections in 1999, and Netanyahu lost to Ehud Barak.

But even if our leader is able to pull it off politically, his troubles are just beginning: Every Prime Minister that will try to evacuate settlements will have to confront the settlers and their establishment for what would be their political showdown. The settlers will have nothing more to loss; all scenarios, from a fierce political fight to a civil war, are possible. Israel had around 9,000 settlers in Gaza, most of them considered “moderates” or non-ideological – and still, evacuating them left a political and social trauma that the country has yet to overcome. The offers made by Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert to the Palestinians would have had at least ten times this number of hardcore ideologist evacuated. I don’t think anyone can tell which way this might go. And here is the real nugget: estimates are that around 25 percent of combat soldiers in Israel are national-religious, some of them already declared that they wouldn’t take part in evacuations of Jews.

I’m not saying evacuating the settlements is impossible. I’m just claiming that it will be very hard to carry out. All evidence from the past show how high the cost of handing territory to the Palestinians is: out of the three PM’s who tried to do this, one (Netanyahu) fell from power, the other (Sharon) had to split his own party and didn’t finish the job, and a third (Rabin) paid with his life.

Here is the heart of the matter: an Israeli leader who considers withdrawal from the West Bank and evacuation of settlements needs to ask himself what’s the political price he might pay, and compare it with the political price of maintaining the status quo. The lower the cost of the status quo is, the less likely is the Israeli leader to evacuate settlements.

In order to increase the likelihood of evacuation, one must increase the political cost of maintaining the status quo (lowering the cost of evacuation doesn’t seem very likely). Unless we do so, the Israeli leader is likely to avoid negotiations or negotiate forever, hoping that political circumstances might change in his favor.

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What moratorium? Netanyahu playing games

Posted: November 25th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Right, The Settlements, the US and us | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

The top news item this evening on walla.co.il – Israel’s most popular web site – reads as follows: “Netanyahu in a message to Obama: Abu-Mazen has no more excuses”. I think this sums it all up. The settlements moratorium PM Benjamin Netanyahu announced was never intended to re-ignite the peace process. It’s not a step toward the Palestinians. It is, as Netanyahu all but put it himself, a message to the White House, asking it to get off our back, and start blaming the Arabs for the occupation, like they did until a year ago.

Netanyuahu and Barak know very well that the Palestinians won’t settle for this. A moratorium that does not include Jerusalem, does not include public buildings, does not include projects already under construction, does not include “security needs”? – what is it exactly that it does include? No wonder all the Right wing’s ministers but one voted for it!

In the State Department’s briefing today, George Mitchell was walking a thin line: wanting to praise Netanyahu, but at the same time being very careful not to say that the Americans got what they asked for:

The steps announced today are the result of a unilateral decision by the Government of Israel. This is not an agreement with the United States, nor is it an agreement with the Palestinians. United States policy on settlements remains unaffected and unchanged. As the President has said, America does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements.

We recognize that the Palestinians and other Arabs are concerned because Israel’s moratorium permits the completion of buildings already started and limits the effect of the moratorium to the West Bank – concerns which we share.

As to Jerusalem, United States policy remains unaffected and unchanged. As has been stated by every previous administration which addressed this issue, the status of Jerusalem and all other permanent status issues must be resolved by the parties through negotiations.

And if the US thinks that’s not enough, how can a Palestinian leader agree to negotiate with Netanyahu now? It will be as if he is saying “go ahead, do your stuff in Jerusalem. I’m cool with that.”

Abu-Mazen can barley hold on to his post right now, with Israel is doing all it can to undermine him. This week Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman declared again that the Palestinian Authority asked Israel to invade Gaza. Imagine what happens to the Palestinian president if he sits to talk with Netanyahu and Liberman, when they not only humiliate him this way, but declare that they will go on settling East Jerusalem?

Here is a naïve question: why is it the world that has to beg Israel to stop building the settlements? The whole goal of this 42 years old project was to prevent the establishing of a Palestinian state or handing back the West Bank to Jordan (it was funny to hear Sarah Palin says that the settlements has something to do with housing needs for Jews. Then again, I wonder if she can find the West Bank on a map, or the entire Middle East for that matter). Now, if Israel is going to evacuate most of the area anyway – and Netanyahu said so himself, didn’t he? – Why go on building there? Why move there people that you will have to evacuate and compensate in a few years?

Israel is playing games, and it’s all too familiar. Read the rest of this entry »


Why do I Support a Right Wing Government

Posted: February 19th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: elections, In the News, The Left, The Right, the US and us | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

This blog is written from the Left. I try to describe events in the most objective way, but I don’t hide my views. I believe that our first political obligations as Israelis is to do all that we can to end the forty two years old occupation of the West Bank, and to stop the siege on Gaza, which is another form of occupation. I also think that racism is becoming a major problem in Israeli society, and that we must do everything in our power to fight it. These are the principles I see in front of me when I consider which government is best for Israel.

The options range between bad and worse. The parties that advocate a full withdrawal from the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and who are truly committed to democratic values, got three percent of the Jewish vote in the last elections. Three.

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Caroline Glick

Posted: December 15th, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: elections, The Right | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

If you want to get an idea of the impossible task facing Netanyahu after winning the election, all you have to do is read what the right wing pundits have to say.

Take JP’s Caroline Glick for example. Glick is already sensing the pressure Netanyahu will face from the Obama administration to move forward with the peace process (she puts it in inverted commas: the “peace process”). I tend to agree with her. Obama’s close advisers, Brent Scowcroft and Zbigniew Brzezinski, wrote in their Washington Post article that achieving progress in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict should be the top foreign policy priority for the new administration. Obama’s planned speech in an Arab capital (yet to be declared) can be a first step in this direction.

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It could get even worst for the left

Posted: November 27th, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: elections, The Left | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Truth is, the Left-Center block might do considerably worst than expected in the coming election, due to lost votes.

When a party running for election does no’t reach the 2% (of all legal votes) threshold – which equals 2.4 MKs – that the party doesn’t get a seat in the Knesset, and all it’s votes are then lost. At the moment, the bigger danger is for the left, which might lose as many as 6 MKs due to lost votes.

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Rabin Square

Posted: November 8th, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: The Left | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off

On my way back home from a friend’s house, I passed by Rabin square during the annual rally commemorating PM Yitzhak Rabin. Both Ehud Barak and Tzipi Livni spoke on stage, and were equally unimpressive. I don’t think I can name a single Israeli politician who can give a decent speech (some say Menachem Begin could, but that was before my time).

There were some 50,000 people there, and the atmosphere was as gloomy as ever. These are the remains of “the Peace Camp”, once a real power in the political arena and now a nostalgic movement which hangs on to the memory of its dead leader. The left is going to crash in the next election, and the only active political force advocating negotiation with Israel’s neighbors is Kadima – a party formed mostly by Likud members. If the historical role of the left was to get Israel to leave the occupied territories on its own will, it failed to fulfill it. Israel has left Gaza and Lebanon, and will leave the West Bank, due to terrorism and international pressure. We lost the debate.