Judicial Reform Will Remain on Israel’s Agenda Even after Netanyahu Leaves Office

To many observers, the Israeli prime minister’s recent interest in constraining the outsize power of the Supreme Court results from his desire to avoid indictment on corruption charges. Perhaps so, writes Evelyn Gordon, but the Israeli right has been pushing for legal reform well before Benjamin Netanyahu took up the idea, and its reasons for doing so go far beyond the political exigencies of the moment. Take, for instance, the experience of Moshe Kaḥlon, leader of the center-right Kulanu party:

Kaḥlon . . . entered the cabinet in 2015 vowing to thwart any effort to curb the legal system’s power. In his coalition agreement with Likud, he even demanded and received veto power over such legislation. And he exercised his veto repeatedly, inter alia killing bills to change the judicial appointments system and to let the Knesset reenact legislation overruled by the courts.

But after April’s election, Kaḥlon’s Kulanu party signaled that it would no longer thwart such efforts, [for] two reasons. . . . First, even Kulanu voters—the most moderate segment of the center-right electorate—objected to Kaḥlon’s defense of the legal status quo. In April’s election, Kulanu dropped from ten Knesset seats to four, and the party’s internal polling found that its repeated vetoes of legal reforms were a major reason why. Many rightists simply won’t vote for anyone opposed to legal reform.

Second, Kaḥlon, [while serving] as finance minister, acquired firsthand experience of the way the Supreme Court prevents governments from governing by repeatedly overturning decisions it deems “unreasonable”—a judgment other democracies leave to voters. [Specifically], the court overruled Kaḥlon’s flagship policy: . . . Kaḥlon had won election by promising to lower Israel’s cost of living, particularly its astronomical housing prices. He therefore enacted a special tax on third apartments, arguing that making it more expensive to buy housing for investment purposes would cool demand and thereby lower prices. . . . [T]he court overturned it, claiming the legislative process was “flawed.” . . .

After more than three decades of such rampant judicial activism, too many right-leaning legislators and voters have similar stories of policies they cared about being nixed . . . merely because unelected justices or an unelected attorney general decided to substitute their own policy judgments for those of the elected government.

Read more at Evelyn Gordon

More about: Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli politics, Moshe Kahlon, Supreme Court of Israel

Recognizing a Palestinian State Won’t Help Palestinians, or Even Make Palestinian Statehood More Likely

While Shira Efron and Michael Koplow are more sanguine about the possibility of a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and more critical of Israel’s policies in the West Bank, than I am, I found much worth considering in their recent article on the condition of the Palestinian Authority (PA). Particularly perceptive are their comments on the drive to grant diplomatic recognition to a fictive Palestinian state, a step taken by nine countries in the past few months, and almost as many in total as recognize Israel.

Efron and Koplow argue that this move isn’t a mere empty gesture, but one that would actually make things worse, while providing “no tangible benefits for Palestinians.”

In areas under its direct control—Areas A and B of the West Bank, comprising 40 percent of the territory—the PA struggles severely to provide services, livelihoods, and dignity to inhabitants. This is only partly due to its budgetary woes; it has also never established a properly functioning West Bank economy. President Mahmoud Abbas, who will turn ninety next year, administers the PA almost exclusively by executive decrees, with little transparency or oversight. Security is a particular problem, as militants from different factions now openly defy the underfunded and undermotivated PA security forces in cities such as Jenin, Nablus, and Tulkarm.

Turning the Palestinian Authority (PA) from a transitional authority into a permanent state with the stroke of a pen will not make [its] litany of problems go away. The risk that the state of Palestine would become a failed state is very real given the PA’s dysfunctional, insolvent status and its dearth of public legitimacy. Further declines in its ability to provide social services and maintain law and order could yield a situation in which warlords and gangs become de-facto rulers in some areas of the West Bank.

Otherwise, any steps toward realizing two states will be fanciful, built atop a crumbling foundation—and likely to help turn the West Bank into a third front in the current war.

Read more at Foreign Affairs

More about: Palestinian Authority, Palestinian statehood