One of the most powerful of political rules is that things are not likely to change a great deal.
It's called incrementalism, and appears all the way from domestic budgets to foreign policy. If things change, they change in increments from what exists.
Incrementalism is prominent among the routines that guide policymakers.
While many demand change, others support the status quo. Program clients and administrators do not want to give up "their" money to a competing program. The advocates of what exists usually have enough clout to hold off those wanting something else, especially something that threatens them.
This doesn't work all the time. Every once in a while there is a great change. It is also likely that small changes will accumulate over time. No country I know of is anything like it was years ago.
Nonetheless, the probabilities support expectations of stability or gradual change, and probabilities are what should guide us in politics, as well as in medicine and economics.
Probabilities point to good bets, but provide no assurances. Politics, like medicine and economics, should make no promises. Commentators and passive observers, as well as voters and politicians must develop a tolerance for uncertainty.
Just as it is unlikely that the supporters of one program will accept a budget reduction for the sake of giving their share of government money to other programs, advocates of existing policies dealing with land, national borders, and security know how to protect their interests.
There are ample stories in the Israel-Palestine realm to illustrate the principle that things change slowly, if at all.
Neither Israelis nor Palestinians has departed greatly from established policies. Palestinians have long been pursuing their state, either with the borders of 1947, 1967, or all the way to the Mediterranean. Israel has pursued a policy of holding off the Palestinians, and expanding its settlements in stages, with an eye to the international environment.
Israelis' initial advantages in organizational skill, then differentials in economics and military power have done their work.
Palestinians thinking they can reverse history should take another look at the barriers Israel has built around and through much of the West Bank. Construction of the wall has pretty much stopped with something between 60 and 70 percent of the plans completed. But that is more a reflection of Palestinians giving up on violence rather than any change in Israeli policy. Why spend the money and antagonize people alongside the planned but not constructed route when Israelis buses and coffee houses are not blowing up.
Restive Palestinians might also take a look at Gaza. Should West Bankers get too feisty, the same can happen to them, again. Israel may also respond to an increase in violence by closing its borders and replacing Palestinian workers with people wanting the jobs from Bulgaria, Romania, China, Thailand, and elsewhere.
Remember that things change. Flexibility on somethings helps maintain other things are are considered more important.
Removing sizable settlements is not in the cards as being played by Israel. Neither is giving up on the options of building within Jerusalem or areas alongside, between, or within established settlements throughout the West Bank.
How much to build? and where? are subject to discussion.
Time and again a leftist Jewish or Israeli organization (Peace Now, B'Tselem, J Street) has announced that an Israeli bureaucratic committee or a politician has proposed, or taken a procedural step in the direction of planning, authorizing building, or letting contracts for construction in East Jerusalem or elsewhere in the West Bank.
Then American activists and officials have expressed their shock and dismay, and speak about the dangers to the two-state solution.
Then Europeans and UN worthies have repeated the mantra.
Then Israel has explained that officials are still far from actually doing something significant on the ground, even though Israel has the right to do what it decides according to Israeli views of domestic and international law.
Then, depending on the uproar, the process may move forward slowly, if at all.
Israeli policy for several years has been to avoid making waves by too much building outside of Jerusalem or other established settlements.
Palestinians and other ARabs foiled the prospect of a two-state solution first against the proposal of the Peel Commission in 1937, then the UN in 1947, at Khartoum in 1967, at Camp David and Taba in 2000, in response to Ehud Olmert in 2008, and again when Mahmoud Abbas could not deal with Netanyahu's demand of calling Israel the Jewish state in 2014.
Signs of the weakness shown by the two-state solution, and perhaps its death appear in the multitude of fantastic proposals being expressed by prominent Palestinians. Once again they cannot get their act together and agree on a proposal with a chance to find support in the broad center of Israeli politics.
One would demand from the UN a ruling that Palestine become a fully independent state with all the territory from 1967 and a capital in Jerusalem, and require the withdrawal of all Israeli settlements along with their Jews within a period of two years. Another proposes to scrap the Oslo Accords as a failure, and create something to give the Palestinians what they want. (Oslo has actually succeeded in giving the Palestinians, for the first time in their history, substantial autonomy and an opportunity to learn how to govern themselves.) Another offers a period of peace for a limited period of time, during which Israel would do what it must to create a Palestinian state with the borders and powers demanded. Another would free Marwan Barhgouti from an Israeli prison, and elevate him to the leadership of Palestine. (Barghouti was convicted of complicity in several murders, and arguably would have been put to death if he committed those crimes in the United States.) Another would retire Mahmoud Abbas as a tired and out of touch old man, who has overstayed his official term by nearly six years, and has yet to achieve anything for Palestine. And every once in a while Abbas threatens to terminate the Palestine National Authority, and let Israel take the responsibility for governing the entire West Bank.
That Western powers continue with their mantra of the two state solution is yet another indication of incrementlism. It's their policy, and one doesn't change policy easily, perhaps not even in the face of reality.
Bibi himself spoke in favor of a two-state solution, perhaps due to the political weight of the US and its Western allies. Commentators note that he did not mention the phrase in his recent UN speech.
Israeli flexibility exists. It appears in the removal of roadblocks, the granting of entry permits to Palestinians workers, expansions of the fishing zone allowed to Gazans, and permits for religious pilgrimages of Palestinians from Gaza to al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, and opportunities for Gazans to visit the West Bank and sell their agricultural produce there.
On the agenda is the transport of building materials to Gaza.
That might not come smoothly, given Israeli suspicions about the intentions of Gazans.
Likewise, flexibility on other dimensions can harden in response to upticks in violence.
Reports about several hundred West Bankers, including juveniles, being held in Israeli jails pending trial for throwing stones and worse should indicate that Israel is not about to be pushed over or out.
Among the puzzles for those wanting to understand politics come when officials seem to advocate what they cannot achieve, or find themselves supporting what others see as policies that work against one another.
Currently the Swedes are stuttering among a recognition of the Palestinian state, expressing support for a negotiated arrangement involving Israel and Palestine, including Gaza, and saying they will recognize a Palestinian state no matter what happens in negotiations.
Barack Obama supports a better deal for Gaza, Israel's security, and a negotiations that will produce some kind of Palestinian state.
What to do when the Palestinians keep saying, "No," or "Not that way?"
Currently the American President may be distracted by a new war which he seems likely to escalate against Muslims, while holding to the expression that Islam is a religion of peace.