Some years ago, a distinguished American academic, Charles Lindblom, published an article, "The Science of Muddling Through."
A little of this, a little of that, in a context where no one is sure what must be done. Not too much in one direction or another will, at least, limit the damage that we do to ourselves.
That continues to be the best summary of what decent governments do. We can put in that list both the US, where many of my readers live, and Israel, which I've called home for more than 40 years.
Muddling through is most relevant for developed countries, whose services operate reasonably well, and where politics is open and expression is virtually unlimited.
In places like that, it's difficult to build a new road or other major project without the opposition of environmentalists, defenders of endangered flora or fauna, or assertions that what is planned will benefit one economic sector or population group at the cost of others.
Policies change and projects are built, but it takes time, and what is done seldom looks like was originally proposed.
Most places that are described as developing, undeveloped, or Third World have severe economic problems, which means muddling through without money to do much of anything.
Muddling through is another way of saying "coping." Which means that what follows will be my same old stuff. You can press the delete button without offense, or continue to see how the most recent events make those sloppy terms relevant.
Among what we have seen in recent weeks in this tiny place .
- A wave of "individual terror," with Palestinians and a few Israeli Arabs taking knives, guns, or cars, and trying to wreck havoc.
- Interrogations, most likely tough but short of the sodomy rape charged by nutty activists, have produced indictments concerned with the burning of an Arab home and the killing of its residents, and several other crimes committed under the heading of Price Tag.
- Assertions by the Prime Minister and others that he will not tolerate terror by Jews or Arabs
- A weekend of high media excitement associated with an attack against a locale favored by the best of young Israelis in the center of Tel Aviv, ineffectual and clumsy activity by the police, and a continuing search for the perpetrator
- While the cops were still looking for that killer, a father and son argued in the problematic near neighborhood of Isaweaa. The young man left home, said he was going to Herzlyia to kill Jews. Dad called the cops, perhaps in the hope that if his son succeeded, the police would not destroy the family home.
- A fierce statement by the Prime Minister, against the tolerance or support of terror by Arabs of Israel, backed up by an opposition politician (Tsipi Livni) demanding the seizing of illegal weapons from the Arab sector
- Assertions by the left of center Ha'aretz that such statements are cheap politics, and suggesting that there wouldn't be any more forceful action against Arabs of Israel than against right wing Jews
- Simpletons like us wondering if there was some connection between the law and order speech of the Prime Minister, and the experience of his wife, having undergone two days earlier five or more hours of police interrogation, with another session scheduled.
- An incident in the north, presumably Hezbollah's retaliation for the killing of its hero, Samir Kuntar. An explosion along the border, which did no damage, followed by IDF artillery toward a Hezbollah position. Expressions of analytic hope that this would end the tit for tat.
We're getting ready for a high level effort at muddling through in one of the countries that sees itself as a world leader. President Barack Obama says he will deal with gun owners, sellers, and manufacturers, with a proposal that appears partial, and as flaccid as some of his efforts at international politics. We hear that 30,000 Americans die annually from gun violence. There is as much ideology about this issue as about Israel and Palestine, but a number of studies find the incidence of gun homicides several times the incidence of guns used effectively in self defense.
Muddling through is not only a fair description of what Israel does, but it's also a recommendation about how it should continue.
Bibi's threats to get tough with Jewish and Arab extremists sound more like his standard rhetorical bluster than any firm intention. We know from years of experience that he talks like a radical and acts like a moderate. The realities are that both Jewish and Arab extremism are problematic, but not threatening to the security of Israel. Most Jews and Arabs are moderate. Most of our recent mayhem has come from Palestinians and not Arab citizens of Israel. And the overall death toll from several months of trouble, less than 30 Israeli deaths, is about one-third of the road carnage typical of that period, and a smaller fraction of a day's activities over the border in Syria.
Palestinians and Israelis appear to be stuck somewhere distant from any fresh ideas about a formal agreement of peace. Politics works in both communities against any dramatic movement from established postures. Israelis are not inclined to remove post-1967 neighborhoods of Jerusalem, or anything more than tiny settlements from the West Bank, especially after a bad experience in Gaza. Palestinians are fixated on the lines of armistice created to end the war of 1948.
Israelis and Palestinians hoping for outsiders to press the parties to make a decision should wake up from their dreams. World attention has passed to other things. Some blame Israelis for intransigence. Some blame Palestinians for the same failure. More important are millions of displaced persons from the Middle East and Africa wanting a better home, and chaos in a number of countries. Lazy views that it's the "same old Middle East" overlook the crumbling of two countries (Syria and Iraq), warfare between Saudi Arabia and Iran, Russian fighters in the middle of things, and the cooperation of Israel with several Arab governments that had been sworn enemies..
Anyone claiming to know what to do should go to the back of the class, shut up and listen.
What Bibi does is better than what he says he will do. He recognizes that he is hemmed in by a difficult coalition, which reflects some of the divisions in the society he has been chosen to manage. The police and other security services, along with the IDF will be tough with those inclined to terror, Jews as well as Arabs, both in Israel and the West Bank. The rubble in Gaza should deter any major aggression from that place. We shouldn't expect any major sweep through Arab villages looking for illegal weapons. The price of putting up with them is less than what may result from a major escalation against a delicate balance in the Arab sector, between those accepting an Israeli status quo in exchange for a decent standard of living, and those who fantasize about something grander.
The news is not only about ethnic conflict. There was a garbage strike for several days in Jerusalem, due to a squabble between the municipality and the Finance Ministry.
Last time this happened, the rats multiplied along with the trash, and one of the creatures disturbed Varda in the bathroom. She jumped, landed on the critter, and I was called to clean the twitching mess.
We'll also suffer tension from right wing religious settlers, and the ultra-Orthodox who want enough resources to live their own ghettoized lives. Both infuriate many of us in the secular middle, but what can we do? There are advantages for Jews in a state with a majority of Jews, but that means putting up with Jews, as well as others telling us what to do.
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem