Palestinian security forces have been operating in areas close to Jerusalem. They have arrested Palestinians--and Arabs with Israeli citizenship--accused of having illegal weapons, dealing in drugs, or activity in Islamic terrorist organizations. Israeli sources acknowledge that Palestinian security forces are operating in areas assigned to Israel for security purposes under the Olso Accords, and have even entered Arab neighborhoods within the Municipality of Jerusalem. An official IDF source has denied that Palestinian security forces have operated in Jerusalem, but Israeli officials otherwise acknowledge agreed-upon cooperation. Israeli citizens seized by the Palestinian security forces have been turned over to their Israeli counterparts. (Google translator will do a decent job with this source, for those who can''t do it themselves.)
This is a dramatic, if not unique example of Israeli-Palestinian accommodations that occur along with the antagonistic clamor of political leaders and activists from both communities, and the demands from those who make their demands from a great distance both of geography and knowledge.
The report about Palestinian and Israeli security cooperation comes in the context of high level meetings, which the news describes as more like conversations than actual negotiations. This particular spate of cooperation between security forces may have emerged from those meetings, or it may have developed independently, among Israeli and Palestinian professionals, perhaps isolating themselves as much as possible from the politicians.
I have acquired great respect for both government and politics during a 50 year career. Since I joined the faculty of Hebrew University in 1975, my formal title has been Professor of Political Science and Public Administration (since 2006 with the addition of Emeritus).
In the background of this latest cooperation on security near and perhaps within Jerusalem is the dominant issue of antagonism between Jew and Muslim. It is a fertile field for elected officials, activists, and publicists in the theater of politics. Partly--or largely--on account of what is associated with the Holy Land, Promised Land, birthplace of Christ, and al-Aqsa, the actors and observers sit in many lands, and occasionally come to express themselves here. No greater demonstration of the attractions of this theater appears in the oddity of Americans and Europeans investing so heavily in the current drama of a peace process that seems to be stalled, when many other issues are more worthy of their attention.
Among the explanations for Palestinian security activity in Arab areas ostensibly assigned to Israel''s responsibility is the general avoidance of those areas by Israel police. It''s easier to let Arabs deal with their own problems then heating up the emotions with visible patrols or arrests, if those can be avoided. Israel does not ignore threats coming from Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem or from elsewhere in the West Bank. It goes in with force when considered appropriate. Ambulances affiliated with the Arab Red Crescent and Jerusalem fire brigades manned by Arabs respond to calls in the most troublesome of Jerusalem''s Arab neighborhoods in order to minimize tensions, stone throwing, fire bombing, and other organized demonstrations against Zionist intruders.
It is not easy to balance the competing elements of government and politics. Politics deals with the excitements of mass action, inspiring voters and wrestling with the most emotional of issues that have gotten to the top of the public agenda. It also decides in macro terms about the money going to various government bodies, qualifications and terms of service for the personnel who are hired to work in administration. However, the exciting stuff of national conflict is at the center of political action, with budget and personnel matters much closer to the detailed drudgery of government.
Politics is the best way--far better than warfare--of dealing with the conflicts inherent in any society. Its essence is persuasion and decision, with key roles for argument and voting.
Government involves the nitty gritty of administration, as well as the professional advice to politicians--sometimes ignored at their peril--about the costs and benefits associated with various alternatives on the political agenda.
Politicians are best at campaigning. Many of them know little about the details of government. Those who stay in the game long enough and play well enough to become government ministers seldom stay in one office for more than a year or two. If they are wise, they depend heavily on senior professionals in those ministers to advise them on what they can do, and what they should not do. Yes Minister is a classic British television series with relevance to many places.
One of my lessons about the tensions between politics and governments came while doing research in East Africa. A ranking Kenyan official lamented his interaction with then President Jomo Kenyatta. The President was scheduled to meet with the people in a country town, and wanted some good news to share with them. Officials provided him with an appropriate increase in the price that government warehouses would pay for the basic food crop of maize. Kenyatta warmed the crowd and then provided the peroration of a pleasant announcement. In the context of great cheers, he warmed further, and proclaimed an even higher price, with the result of greater cheers. Later came the hard work of officials in the Finance Ministry, to repair the damage to the national government caused by presidential enthusiasm.
One can find demagoguery, excessive simplicity, stupidity, callousness, and greater evils among both politicians and government professionals in all societies. Civilization since the Hebrews and Greeks, with appropriate bows to the Chinese, has depended on both politics and government.
The Minister of Housing--a veteran settlement activist--recently announced the onset of planning for 25,000 new housing units over the 1967 borders. It did not take long for a condemnation to come from the US, and for the Palestinians to threaten the end of negotiations. A short time later, the Prime Minister reminded the Housing Minister that Israel was at a delicate moment in international negotiations about the greater issue of Iran, and told him to check with the Prime Minister before announcing anything else of such a magnitude.
Along with the headlines describing the noisy and noisome politics hereabouts, there is comity and accommodation among individual Jews and Arabs. There is also tension and violence. One must be careful, but perhaps no more or less so than when on the borders of ethnic, religious, or racial communities in other societies. Palestinian media and schools add to the tension with incitement against Israelis and Jews.
Currently front and center on Israel''s public agenda is the threat of Iranian nuclear weapons. It is providing work both for the highest ranking politicians, and unknown numbers of planners and operations personnel in the IDF and other security organizations.
Another major disturbance comes from the insistence of American politicians that Israel and Palestine do what has been shown to be impossible, i.e., make a formal and complete peace. The distant politicians do not seem to know, or perhaps they do not care that the process they demand may undue years of incremental progress.
Critics, including non-Jews and Jews of Israel and overseas accuse Israel''s Prime Minister of overplaying the Holocaust card with respect to the Iranian threat. Yet a number of Netanyahu''s Israeli political rivals, who are most likely to jeer him on other issues, have joined him in criticizing John Kerry and Barack Obama for their naivete and excessive lenience with respect to a nuclear Iran.
Strangest of all is John Kerry demanding with his most serious pomposity that Netanyahu wait until there is a deal with Iran before he criticizes it. To many Israelis, Kerry is getting ready to do a repeat of Neville Chamberlain returning from Munich, proud of achieving "peace in our time."
Us commoners can do little more than express ourselves on the basis of what we have heard and read to date. We have no obligation to wait for a done deal in order to comment on what is being offered.