There has been a bad couple of days for Israelis living in settlements beyond the 1967 borders, including those of us in the new neighborhoods of Jerusalem.
The European Union formally announced a ban on the funding of Israeli entities beyond those borders. While the actual impact is not clear, its symbolic nature has been considerable. Israeli politicians have been outspoken in their condemnation of interference in sensitive issues long on the agenda for negotiations. Even some of those who welcome outside criticism of settlements have expressed concerned that the timing of the announcement has been clumsy and will be counter productive.
The newly recognized (by Israel) University in Ariel may be the prime sufferer of the ban on funding, and may even be the explanation for it being announced.
The State Comptroller published an annual report that included a scathing review of Israel''s administration with respect to settlers and their local governments. It indicated a failure to implement laws and regulations, including criminal and traffic laws, taxes, fees, and controls over land use throughout what critics have long called the Wild East. Sums involved include some 50 million shekels a year (close to $14 million) not going to the central government treasury for the leases of land associated with housing, which serve as unofficial subsidies of the settlements considered illegal by the European Union and now being dropped from the list of places where its officials can aid Israeli entities.
Some clarifications are in order. The European Union decision applies to decisions taken by its institutions, and not those of individual governments that are its members. For the time being, organs of those governments may still provide assistance or do business with Israeli institutions wherever they exist. It would be unwise, however, not to recognize the strong anti-settlement sentiments that exist throughout Europe, including in those countries that have been generous supporters of Israel. Funding and other benefits that continue today may dry up next week.
The European Union decision has produced a frenzy among Israeli politicians and in the Israeli media. Accusations of anti-Semitism directed against ranking European bureaucrats who led the anti-settlement campaign have been heard along with comments that the European Union remains supportive of Israel, funnels considerable money to Israeli institutions, but limited to what Europe considers to be Israel, i.e., within the 1967 borders until something else is decided along with the Palestinians.
Anti-settlement Israelis are saying that wake up calls were heard long ago, and that the Prime Minister was apprised of the European Union''s pending decision at least a month ago. Some say that it is time to work seriously with the Palestinians in order to resolve our differences, and to face the realities about settlements, especially those outside of Jerusalem and the major blocs.
While some are claiming that the European Union action has been orchestrated along with Obama-Kerry efforts to bring Israelis and Palestinians to the bargaining table, others are saying that it reflects a breakdown in US-EU cooperation.
The reaction among Israelis, especially right wing members of the present government, suggests a rejection of outside interference that serves only the Palestinians and rewards them for not bargaining in good faith.
The perennial peacenik Shimon Peres criticized the Europeans for bad timing, that could scuttle whatever hopes John Kerry had of bringing the parties together.
If Prime Minister Netanyahu was reluctant to show flexibility before the European Union announcement, now he could not do so without risking a rebellion in his own party''s delegation to the Knesset that may write finish to his government and maybe his political career.
MKs Danny Danon, Deputy Minister of Defense, and Ze''ev Elkin, Deputy Foreign Minister, expressed their desire to visit the Temple Mount on the 9th of Av, but were turned back by the police despite their claims of Knesset immunity. Both have been among the Prime Minister''s critics, and leading voices in demands that the government take whatever steps possible against the actions of the European Union. Elkin has served as the acting Foreign Minister while Avigdor Lieberman waits out his criminal trial and the Prime Minister is holding the place for him .
Visits by Jews to the Temple Mount on the 9th of Av, and demands to pray on the site are provocative issues that until now have been promoted by a marginal group of Jews. Some have been producing garments and other ceremonial objects as described in the Hebrew Bible in anticipation of the eventual construction of the Third Temple and the reestablishment of sacrifices. Their activities have the support of some rabbis and the opposition of others, who are concerned both for trampling on the unknown location that was reserved only for the High Priest on the most sacred of occasions, and for provoking violence locally and from Muslims everywhere who would fear the destruction of their own holy sites.
At least since Yochanan ben Zakkai, one of the themes in rabbinical commentary has been, Don''t provoke the goyim.
The State Comptroller''s report on the lack of Israeli tax collections and other failures of law enforcement in the West Bank does not apply to the new neighborhoods of Jerusalem. Residents of French Hill and other post-1967 additions to the city continue to pay local taxes and water bills. We must adhere to regulations about parking, traffic, criminal behavior, building, and other matters if we do not want the imposition of fines or other sanctions. However, the report deals with a structural problem throughout Israel. While politicians may be quick to declare policy and enact laws, there is a casual approach to implementation. Legislation is ignored, or set aside by the ministers with responsibility for administration. There is also a widespread failure to carry through with actions in a timely matter. Overworked judges and administrative personnel move from case to case without finishing their deliberations, and then back again to previous matters in sessions separated by weeks or months that cause issues to drag on for years instead of being finished in days or weeks. Attorneys involved in judicial or administrative actions contribute to the process by using delay as a tactic.
What does all this mean for the future of the settlements and the chances of the Obama-Kerry efforts to bring peace to the Middle East?
Speculation about these points is limited by not knowing what the Secretary of State and President are offering in closed conversations with the parties as inducements, or their threats if inducements are not accepted.
Details available to the public are not encouraging. Kerry''s comments to the media suggest that he is concentrating on getting the parties to meet, rather than bringing them through the knotty problems that have gotten in the way of agreements. High-level international meetings about controversies are ideally settled in private among experts before any meeting of politicians. Perhaps there will be a few details left for the big-wigs to settle, as if they really were deciding their nations'' futures. Then they sign off on with the pomp and ceremonies, including the shaking of hands and the drinking of a toast that is appropriate to the religions involved..
In this case, however, no one is suggesting that Kerry has done the hard work of pushing the parties to a point where the onset of discussions will produce the rituals of formal agreements. It appears that by bringing the parties to talk, he is looking for an easy accomplishment for himself and the President in a situation where the rest of the Middle East is boiling over in violence and no one with significant power in Syria, Egypt, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, or Lebanon is paying attention to American officials.
The uptick in Islamic related violence cannot be encouraging to Palestinians who might otherwise be inclined to concede something to Prime Minister Netanyahu, or to whatever inclinations Netanyahu might feel toward his own flexibility. He and his party colleagues have added the "insults" of European Union restrictions as reasons for his own disinclinations to be flexible, or even to begin negotiations. Palestinians have applauded the European Union action, but recognize how it might act against any climate receptive to discussions. Some Palestinians have expressed reservations about the European Union meddling in the West Bank, especially as it might lead to wider boycotts and the closure of Israeli industries that employ Palestinians.
Israeli, Palestinian, American, and European politicians are scurrying and drafting, seeking to serve whoever they see as their constituencies and most likely themselves. The two recent provocations, from the European Union and Israel''s State Comptroller, may or may not lead them to change established postures.
Latest news is that the Palestinian leadership cannot decide, or has not decided to accept the parameters Kerry proposes for beginning talks. Netanyahu has not spoken quite so clearly, but he has said he cannot accept 1967 borders as parameters which seem essential to the Palestinians.
As tempting as it might be to predict what will be tomorrow, next week, or next year, we''ll have to wait and see.
The breather I described recently still holds. Muslims are spending much greater resources in killing other Muslims than in targeting Jews, or deciding how to negotiate with Jews. The hope is that the European Union, John Kerry, and Barack Obama will not do anything that ends that breather.