On Israel's future and the status quo

Among the flurries swirling around this tiny country are uncertainties about its future.
Some see our destiny dependent on reaching an agreement with the Palestinians. However, Palestinians have been saying no for more than 80 years, and are currently on the cusp of another civil war among who-knows-how-many competing factions. 
Others see Israel's destiny as fulfilling God's promise of all the land, and annexing it to Israel. Those wanting this compete with their solutions for the Palestinians. Some would give them citizenship in an expanded Israel. Some would keep them in a limbo of residence but not grant them citizenship, ignoring the international sanctions likely to follow such a move. Some would induce or force their migration elsewhere. 
Among our problems is God's confusion. He included conflicting definitions of the territory promised in different passages of what He dictated to Moses
Substantial numbers of Israelis resist any significant annexation. Some think it unfair to the Palestinians. Some want nothing to do with the Palestinians, who would come along with the land. The ultra-Orthodox may qualify for being the most Jewish of the Jews, and their rabbis seem disinterested or opposed to any territorial changes that will upset the goyim and/or bring more problems than benefits.
So we may be stuck with the status quo, or something close to it, with respect to the Palestinians.
There is greater accommodation with them that is evident from politicians or the media. The average Palestinian may live as well as the average Mexican, and better than the average African or the miserable residents of Central America.
Other problems aren't any clearer.
Bibi's political career may be coming to an end. But that's not certain. And Likud is likely to remain important in whatever comes next.
In both international and domestic issues, things never remain exactly the same. But there are a host of factors that make something close to what exists most likely to continue.
  • Politics
  • Laws
  • Precedents
  • Existing budget commitments and limited additional resources
Political alliances are fluid, but they do not often change in ways so dramatically as to produce significant changes in public policy.
Laws, precedents, existing budget allocations and the bureaucracies that enforce them are even more important in keeping things close to where they are. 
Most of a government's budget is allocated to programs whose clients resist a reduction in their benefits. Complex procedures and political deals manage the annual changes, with contending interests seeking portions of the new money available. However, the new money is likely to be a tiny fraction of the total, with the result that the budget changes slowly — and not necessarily in the same directions — year after year.
Among Israelis — Jews and others — things are about as good as they are for the average Western European or American. They're better for Jews than for Arabs, but Israeli Arabs live as well or better than minorities in other democracies. We often hear of poor conditions within Arab towns, but it's difficult to know how much of that is due to the stinginess of Jewish leaders and how much to the stubbornness of Arab politicians, and their unwillingness to play the political game of joining in alliances with power holders for mutual benefit.
International conditions may threaten great change here and elsewhere, but most of the time there are enough options for governments to decide how they will act. And most of the time the plurality of political conditions within a country and its existing commitments operate in the direction of stability — more or less.
Politicians seek attention by opposing elements of the status quo, but government operates according to existing laws, administrative rules, and budget allocations. Much of what we hear from politicians is the blah blah of the moment, quickly forgotten or submerged in someone else's blah blah. Many more proposals are put in the hopper of  national legislatures than are actually debated, and many more are debated than enacted. Then much of what is enacted is implemented only partly, if at all. New legislation often leaves it to bureaucrats to define rules as to how a program will be implemented. And it may take years for the bureaucrats to reach agreements among themselves and actually do something resembling what legislators expected.
Great changes do occur, but they are rare, unpredictable in the directions they take, and often unpleasant.
Someone like Donald Trump may emerge as an electoral surprise, and behave in unconventional ways once in office. So far, however, Trump is having trouble getting what he wants from his own staff, congress, courts, and the departments he must work with.
The betting should be in behalf of the status quo, whatever it is. Most often, it has the most advocates, concerned about losing what they have achieved. Outsiders criticize and seek change. Sometimes they succeed. However, among the reasons they are outsiders are their political weakness, lack of political skills, or lack of support in the population, legislature, courts, and bureaucracy. More often than not, those conditions limit how much they can change what exists.
No one should argue that the status quo is ideal. There is plenty of room for improvement
However, there is also a place for political realism. Those with power usually work to keep it. More often then not, they are favored by wealth, education, and support in the population..
Those convinced that SOMETHING MUST BE DONE are usually out there in the weeds shouting among themselves.
The Middle East demonstrates significant changes in several regimes over the most recent decades. Iraq, Syria, and Libya are prominent examples. The Soviet Union is no more, but Russia is a factor to reckon with.
It's difficult to describe significant regime changes among the established democracies.
The politics of a democracy help to explain the good life, with its components of dispute, voting, decision, and stable government that separates us from the Hobbesian conditions where life is nasty, brutal, and likely to be short.
Democratic politics may not be nice, polite, or pleasant to observe. But they usually work.
While thinking about all this, enjoy your Passover and/or Easter. Enjoy the stories without deciding what actually happened. And there's no need to drink all of four cups, or to finish everything put on your Seder table. 
Among the good things is the apparent passage into history of Easter as the time for Christian mobs to kill Jews.
We're still working on many of the Muslims.
Comments welcome
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
[email protected]