Politicians and administration


Politics is the civilized way of dealing with disputes. Campaigns, voting, and the routine displacement of the losers by the winners is the way of enlightened government.


Making policy and managing programs are more complicated than election campaigns. They require professional expertise in the myriad of fields that government touches.


Politicians skilled in appealing to the masses may not know as much as they claim about the details.


The present impasse between Israel, Palestine, and John Kerry is the best illustration currently available about the weakness of politicians.  


More than 40 years of teaching policymaking and administration, researching policy issues, consulting with administrators, and talking with former students who reached high positions have brought me to respect the people who do the work of government. More than politicians who are attracted to the issue of the moment, administrators.know. the details of problems they have worked for years. The good ones know what has been tried by their government and.others, the pitfalls and advantages of numerous possibilities.


In the present case, John Kerry is playing the part of a man with ideas he thinks are great, who delights in speaking to the masses.  Yet either he hasn''t consulted with experts who know the history of Israel and Palestine, or he hasn''t listened to them. It''s not pleasant to think that the cadres of staffers in the State Department and White House might not know what has been proposed and rejected over the course of 80 years, since the British were in charge. Or those experts did not plumb the inclinations of Netanyahu and Abbas and the pressures upon them.


Kerry is a caricature of the politician concerned for his own thniking, with little recognition of essential facts. Not only has he disturbed several years of peace with his illusion of having the solution to a problem others have found to be insoluble. He screwed up at a crucial point by not clarifying for the Palestinians what he heard from the Israelis, i.e., that Israel would not release Israeli Arabs in its prisons for acts of terror. Then he blamed Israel for the breakdown in his process, by accusing it of declaring new buildings in "settlements," while the building at issue was in a Jerusalem neighborhood where Israelis had made clear that they would not stop building.


Whatever the failings of American experts or the stubborn obsessions of John Kerry, or perhaps the crafty counter maneuvers of Bibi or Mahmoud, all those politicians have failed.


In the process they may have spurred those inclined to violence to undo the incremental progress accomplished in years of work by Israeli and Palestinian professionals, with the help of American money plus American and Jordanian personnel.


There has been an uptick in violence. And with Abbas and Netanyahu, as well as Kerry--in the style of politicians--blaming one another for the failure of talks, we can expect more violence.


If we can get through this--with or without a significant wave of Palestinian terror and whatever the IDF does in response--there remains a lot more that can be done. 


Success may require leaving  things to the professionals in each branch of public service, without politicians insisting on their own idealized solutions.


Let''s not delude ourselves. Peace of the kind that now prevails across Western Europe, or between the US and Canada is not in the cards.


A few days ago at 6:30 PM a hopeful, left of center journalist, broke into a TV program with the breaking news that an agreement was imminent. It would be the same thing almost accepted a week previously. There would be an Israeli commitment to release another 400 or so Palestinian prisoners, a pause in Palestinians'' efforts to join international organizations as a new state, the release of Pollard, and the continuation of talks.


By 8 PM of the same day a competing channel was emphasizing details still being disputed by the parties. By next morning, the new agreement was somewhere among the possibilities, but the American mediator had gone home for several days of consultation. Members of the Israeli government and Palestinians were upping their demands, each in opposite directions. 


Nothing would be expected during the week of Passover.


Whether talks continue or not, chances are slim that Israel will recognize Palestine as a state, and respect its claimed boundaries when having to go after individuals who have acted, or who appear about to act against Israelis.


Israel has announced the preparation of sanctions against Palestinians, to be implemented if the Palestinians continue their efforts to gain international recognition as a state. Such a step may set back any accommodation possible, but it will send a message to the Palestinians of the costs associated with their own initiatives. The sanctions possible include a withholding of taxes that Israel collects for Palestine at the ports, in order to pay for electricity, fuel, and other products that Israel provides to the Palestinians. Even more drastic may be canceling the VIP treatment of Palestinian political leaders, and forcing them to wait in line with the commoners every time they wish to enter or leave the Palestinian territories.


Assuming that the period of anger will pass sooner or later, a management of tensions and a better life for both peoples are within the range of possibilities.


It would help if the Americans or Europeans adopted the pattern of paying for an upgrading of Palestinian security personnel--which contributed to several years of relative peace--to an upgrading of Palestinian personnel in other fields.


Teaching Palestinian teachers not to preach that Jews are dogs and apes, and not to teach that Palestine properly covers the whole of Israel, would be useful first steps.


Dealing with water and sewage would be just as useful. But it would have to overcome what appears to be a higher Palestinian priority for corruption than public service; or a Palestinian inclination to use suffering as a card in international politics, and a way to keep the population angry and primed for violence.


Not all administrators are geniuses. Some are evil. Some adhere to the same ideologies that move politicians, and seek to emulate their political bosses. 


With all that, professionals as a group are ahead of the politicians in knowing what they are doing.


So it would help if the politicians stay away or muzzle themselves, and let the professionals do their work..


But we should be wary of optimism.


Whoever can hope for politicians keeping quiet may also believe in the tooth fairy, or that the Prophet Elijah will drink that glass of wine.


May you all have a good Passover.



Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725