It’s the Occupation, Stupid

Gershom Gorenberg

Why did the Great Coalition That Would Solve Everything come undone in a mere 70 days? I explain in the American Prospect.

In France’s Fourth Republic, it was said that tourists in Paris made sure to take in the daily changing of the government. According to myth, a deputy who dozed in the National Assembly might wake up to be told that he’d been premier twice during his nap. The coalitions that rule countries with multiparty systems can be flimsy things. But outside the realm of myth, Israel’s most recent coalition was particularly short-lived: It ruled for ten weeks, just seventy days, before collapsing this week.

By bringing Shaul Mofaz’s centrist Kadima Party into his government in May, Netanyahu sought to avoid early elections. Among the big things that new friends Shaul and Bibi promised to do were ending the widely resented draft exemption for ultra-Orthodox men and jump-starting the peace process with the Palestinians. In other words, Netanyahu would show that he was really a moderate, and that he had been waiting for Kadima’s support to rule as one.

The explicit reason that Kadima left the coalition on Tuesday was irresolvable differences on the draft issue. Turns out that Netanyahu is not any kind of moderate. He’d like to maintain a façade that he is willing to agree to a two-state arrangement, and that he’d sadly compromise on the West Bank eternally belonging to Israel, if only the Palestinians were willing to talk without setting preconditions. But the façade is crumbling.

Let’s work up from a small, telling example. Near the Jordan River in the northern West Bank is a settlement called Givat Sla’it, established in 2001. It’s what’s known as an illegal outpost—illegal, that is, even according to the laws applied by Israel in the West Bank. The laws require cabinet approval for a new settlement, but approving new settlements after the 1993 Oslo Accord would have been an international embarrassment. Under the Bush administration’s 2003 “road map” for peace, Israel committed itself to removing a number of outposts, including Givat Sla’it. Naturally, it’s still there. This week Ha’aretz reported that the Defense Ministry has now “contracted an architect to resume construction” at the outpost. This is part of a trend: The Netanyahu government has stopped paying lip service to the idea that the outposts are an aberration. Instead, it’s developing them.

A more glaring example: On Tuesday, a panel on higher education operating under Israel’s Civil Administration in the West Bank approved transforming a college in the settlement of Ariel into a university. Israel’s Council of Higher Education, a government agency, had already rejected the change, but since Ariel is in the West Bank, not inside Israel, the council was powerless. The presidents of all seven Israeli universities had issued a joint statement against creating a university in Ariel. They said the step would divert funds from their institutions, which have already been under-budgeted for a decade. (In a country whose economy is entirely dependent on brain industries, underfunding universities is a particularly sharp example of small-government madness.)

Read the rest here.