The routines of politics

 I published a book with this title in 1970. It had a bit of academic success, making the point that politicians spend much of their time doing the same old things that they learned who knows how long ago.

I'll not bother with a new edition, but I see reinforcement, yet again, in recent days.

The White House, as well as Peace Now and its allies, claims that building the neighborhood Givat Hamatos will doom the prospect of a Palestinian state by blocking transportation between the northern and southern areas of the West Bank.

We heard the same thing about another neighborhood, Har Homa. It would prevent a territorial linkage between the northern and southern Palestinian cities of the West Bank. It now has a population of 25,000, but has not so far ended the possibility of traveling from one part of the West Bank to another that the same thing is being said about Givat Hamatos.

Givat Hamatos is nothing new. It was the site of a large trailer park used as temorary housing for Ethiopian and Russian immigrants and other Israelis needing housing more than a decade ago. Residents resisting re-location have delayed the aspirations of property developers who see it as a prime site for an upscale neighborhood with a great views of Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and the Judean Desert. It borders the largely Jewish neighborhoods of Talpiot and Gilo, and the Arab neighborhood of Beit Safafa, and would likely attract both Jews and Arabs.

It was routine for both Peace Now and the Obama White House to unleash their well used themes of opposition, as if building in Givat Hamatos would be the mortal wound to kill the prospect of a Palestinian state. (And not the record of Palestinians going back to the 1930s, rejecting every proposal to give them a state of their own, but one that must live alongside a state of the Jews.)

In response to Peace Now and the Obama White House, we have also seen the repeat of an established routine by the Prime Minister and other Israelis. Theirs is that Israel would decide, by itself, what to build in its capital city.

Among the guesses: the Israeli government will adopt the routine of continuing to plan for a controversial area, in this case Givat Hamatos, slowly, without actually building enough, fast enough, to upset the US and other international activists whose routines follow the US lead.

Among the unanswerable questions: how important is all the blather from the US about spoiling the peace process, and from Israel about control over its capital city? Both are going through predictable routines, perhaps without expecting to change their own behavior or anyone else's.

A routine of recent domestic politics in Israel is the persistence of Finance Minister Yair Lapid to promote a policy claimed to be a key element of his campaign to improve the lot of the working middle class, even though it is widely believed to already have harmed the middle class and is likely to do more damage if actually implemented.

The issue goes by the label "0%." It promises no Value Added Tax on the first home purchased by a young couple, supposedly making the purchase 18 percent less expensive than otherwise.

HOWEVER, the various discussions have so delayed and changed the proposal as originally proclaimed so that it has not only altered the proclaimed intention, but is likely to have worsened the situation that Lapid promised to improve.

He initially said that it would be limited to working members of the middle class who had served in the army.

That couldn't fly among politicians always nervous about offending the Haredim, many of whose young men neither work nor serve in the army. Their political parties are not in this government, but they may be needed for the next one, or the one after that. Moreover, Israeli courts have become more concerned about benefits limited for one sector but not others. So Lapid had to bend and provide something for the Haredim, as well as for Israeli Arabs who also avoid military service.

Insofar as it was to aid the middle class, Lapid added conditions that would exclude the purchases of "luxury" homes. 

Then it became apparent that the cost limitations excluded virtually everything likely to be for sale anywhere close to the center of the country where the vast majority of young, working couples want to live.

Economists have been opposed from the first announcement. Not only would it cost a great deal for the national budget, but it would distort the working of the market by inserting too much of a heavy government hand in the matter of pricing. And it might actually increase the cost of housing since contractors would delay building until the program was actually under way. Building has slowed, with the result that housing supplies are limited while young Israelis continue to form couples and look for housing. Supply, demand, and prices have done their work.

The result has been to push up the price of housing sought by young couples, whether Jewish secular, Haredi, Arab, middle class or something else, wanting to live in Tel Aviv or as far from the center as it is possible to get in a tiny country.

The slogan of 0% is important enough for Lapid, slipping in the polls from his party's 19 seats in the present Knesset to perhaps 10 or less in a theoretical election. Last week the government approved a 0% program as part of a deal to approve a national budget. The Prime Minister says he is not enthusiastic. There are still a few administrative steps needed to be done. It would be dangerous to hold your breath waiting, or maybe for young couples to wait while prices continue to rise.

Routines do not respect national or cultural borders.

Palestinians are demanding a state with the borders of 1967 and a capital in Jerusalem, and threatening to go to the International Criminal Court if they do not get it from the UN Security Council.

Should we worry or chuckle?

Is this the time for the UN Security Council to weigh in on the side of Palestine while at least three of its major members are mobilizing to deal forcefully with Islam, while routinely expressing the slogan that Islam is a religion of peace?

There is also a problem likely to be faced by Palestinians if they get to the International Criminal Court, ie., to make the case that they have a better claim of illegality against Israel than Israel has against them. Or how many rockets sent toward Israeli civilians are the equivalent or worse of how many dead Palestinians in Gaza, with the judges having to deal with claims that many of the dead were fighters, or civilians required to shield fighters.

Some may respond with the routine that those who forget history--or never learned it--are destined to repeat it.

The world is dynamic. Details change, and most are important enough to render that bit about history repeating itself another one of the meaningless slogans routinely expressed in the hope of ending an argument.

The mixture of change and routines is one of the mysteries that keep us thinking. It  reminds us--in case we forgot--that things aren't as simple as academics or politicians would like to believe.