Routines are everywhere, with everyone. Almost all our waking hours we are employing one or another. How we brush our teeth, fix our breakfast, drive to where we've been before, get ready for bed.
They are crucial for government and politics. Just as an individual cannot be bothered to ponder at length what to do in most situations, officials, politicians, and activists generally do what they have done in similar circumstances.
Routines simply life, make expectations more predictable, and serve well in most cases.
They are also limiting. Routines may not blind us to new opportunities or dangers, but they make it difficult to switch.
Government officials, entrenched politicians, and well practiced activists may be most vulnerable to the limitations. Such people are more involved with organizations, parties, alliances, and commitments than ordinary citizens deciding how to fix breakfast. They have staked reputation and involved with many others in their routines, and the costs of change may be heavy.
Such people are also in the spotlight. Every word, gesture, and response that they make, or how they fail to speak or show concern in response to a crisis is likely to be recorded by the media professionals almost always near them, or some random and alert bystander with a smartphone.
Israeli leaders and security professionals are struggling to devise new routines to deal with the current wave of terror. It isn't easy to decide how to counter individuals who are spurred to their own routines, perhaps sharpened by internet lessons on how to use a knife effectively, by incitement and personal reasons to attack Jews. It's not an army that we are fighting, or a disciplined organization that can be crippled by attacking its head. Police, troops, and other security personnel can be positioned at points that have proved to be sensitive, but most are trained for other tasks. Patrolling and guarding are among the simplest of defense routines, but they are boring. The incidence of attacks is low, but their cost is high. They may come when alertness is low.
Commentators, with or without a PhD in something, or with a former position that sounds impressive, are competing with their analyses of what moves the Palestinian individuals, and what can stop them. We hear several new ideas each day. Some may have penetrated the discussions of ranking officials and security professionals, but us commoners get only an occasional hint about their thinking.
Upping the response, or moving to more destructive routines of defense may involve the complex tasks of individuals deciding what to do, then persuading others about a new set of routines and training cadres how to change what they do..
Some involve operating in congested and hostile settings. Those who haven't gotten lost in the warrens of Third World neighborhoods have trouble judging the problems. There are also the constraints of international condemnation. Palestinian propagandists have no trouble arousing support when Israeli security personnel put down a 14 year old girl or an 11 year old boy, and then shoot again according to what they have learned in order to assure that there will be no danger. The nasty label of Apartheid is ready to be used by activists following their own routines when security forces close roads to Palestinians, tighten inspections, take away the work permits of those related to an attacker, and round up illegals and dump them back into the West Bank. Proposals to take family members, including cousins, of those who have attacked and bring them to Gaza (what routine condemnations call the world's largest prison) tempts even greater routine condemnation from Israeli civil rights activists and may bring a no no from Israeli courts.
The most prominent routines are those practiced by the highest officials. Barack Obama's repeated expression that he'll keep American boots off the ground of the Middle East, and those of his Secretary of State and all their gofers about easing restrictions on Palestinians and working toward the creation of a Palestinian State have gotten more ridicule than praise from Middle Easterners of all kinds willing to express themselves. Israeli officials, always wary of violating the routine of affirming loyalty to big brother, express their support for the two-state solution, but have their own routine of demanding a change in the Palestinian routines. They must express recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, a state for the Jewish people, or some similar formulation.
Barack is known for ringing words and John for his sonorous voice, along with measures that bring forth raised eyebrows more than applause. Obama's speech at Cairo, and his threats and back-down about Syrian chemical weapons, along with Kerry's half baked distinction between the attacks on the Charlie Hebdo and what happened recently in Paris have entered the realm of commentators and comics practicing their own routines, not meant to compliment the American officials or the vaunted power of their government..
Kerry came on Tuesday in order to speak with Netanyahu and Abbas.
As far as we know, Israel's Prime Minister was careful to avoid any commitment about gestures to Palestinians. Israelis are on a roll to harden their routines, and to impose a greater degree of collective punishment on the West Bank. It won't look fair to human rights activists, but it may work in a population that lacks national leadership but where individuals respond to family pressure. Taking away work permits and keeping uncles in their village on account of a cousin who went bad may keep other cousins from employing the heroic routines of violence and quick death or severe injury and long imprisonment.
Palestinians prepared for the American's visit by upping their rhetoric about Israelis murdering innocent Palestinians, and demanding an international force to protect them, along with serious moves toward the creation of their state.
In the nature of routines, they are things we've heard or seen before, with each side likely to have its own familiar response.
Things do change. It may take a while or an especially dramatic event to lead individuals to change their own routines and those of organizations in which they participate. Europeans and Israelis, perhaps more than Americans, are in such a situation. Europeans are being shaken by violence and a hoard of migrants; Israelis by an uptick in violence. It'll take a while to see what new routines each chooses, and a bit longer to see if they contribute to greater stability, or provoke a different kind of instability.
There are also routines associated with national celebrations. There's no Thanksgiving near these fingers, but those getting ready to celebrate have my best wishes.
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem