The Settlements, Benjamin Netanyahu, and the Danger of Conflating Politics with Law

Most objections to the State Department’s recent determination that international law does not prohibit Jews from living in the West Bank were based, Evelyn Gordon notes, on prudential rather than legal grounds. Citing as examples the statements of the presidential candidates Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg, she points to the dangers of this inability, or unwillingness, to distinguish policy from law:

[T]he concept of “it’s legal, but it stinks” has evidently gone out of style, especially on the left. When leftists think something stinks, they want it declared illegal, even if it’s not.

The advantages of this tactic are obvious. Policy questions, by definition, are disputable. . . . But law ostensibly eliminates controversy because once the courts rule something illegal, then everyone is supposed to accept that it must stop. . . . [The] problem is this tactic’s enormous cost, which far outweighs any possible benefit: when people start branding anything they object to as “illegal,” they turn the law into just another player on the political battlefield. And once that happens, legal decisions will be treated with no more respect than any other political pronouncement.

Gordon notes a perhaps far more dangerous parallel within Israel’s political system, in the form of the attorney general’s decision to indict Benjamin Netanyahu:

[T]he attorney general’s office and the courts have intervened in literally thousands of policy decisions over the past three decades, frequently in defiance of actual written law and almost always in the left’s favor. In short, both . . . have routinely behaved like political activists rather than impartial jurists. So rightists have no reason to trust their impartiality now.

[Moreover], Netanyahu has been targeted by frivolous investigations—including, in my view, two of the three now going to trial—ever since he first became prime minister in 1996. All involved genuinely repulsive conduct on Netanyahu’s part. But rather than treating such conduct as a problem on which the public, rather than the courts, must render judgment, the legal establishment repeatedly opened cases against him, to which they devoted countless man-hours before finally closing them.

Now, the legal establishment says it has finally found a real crime. But as in the story of the boy who cried wolf, Netanyahu’s supporters no longer believe it.

Read more at Evelyn Gordon

More about: Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli politics, Joseph Biden, Pete Buttigieg, Settlements

Why Arab Jerusalem Has Stayed Quiet

One of Hamas’s most notable failures since October 7 is that it has not succeeded in inspiring a violent uprising either among the Palestinians of the West Bank or the Arab citizens of Israel. The latter seem horrified by Hamas’s actions and tend to sympathize with their own country. In the former case, quiet has been maintained by the IDF and Shin Bet, which have carried out a steady stream of arrests, raids, and even airstrikes.

But there is a third category of Arab living in Israel, namely the Arabs of Jerusalem, whose intermediate legal status gives them access to Israeli social services and the right to vote in municipal elections. They may also apply for Israeli citizenship if they so desire, although most do not.

On Wednesday, off-duty Israeli soldiers in the Old City of Jerusalem shot at a Palestinian who, it seems, was attempting to attack them. But this incident is a rare exception to the quiet that has prevailed in Arab Jerusalem since the war began. Eytan Laub asked a friend in an Arab neighborhood why:

Listen, he said, we . . . have much to lose. We already fear that any confrontation would have consequences. Making trouble may put our residence rights at risk. Furthermore, he added, not a few in the neighborhood, including his own family, have applied for Israeli citizenship and participating in disturbances would hardly help with that.

Such an attitude reflects a general trend since the end of the second intifada:

In recent years, the numbers of [Arab] Jerusalemites applying for Israeli citizenship has risen, as the social stigma of becoming Israeli has begun to erode and despite an Israeli naturalization process that can take years and result in denial (because of the requirement to show Jerusalem residence or the need to pass a Hebrew language test). The number of east Jerusalemites granted citizenship has also risen, from 827 in 2009 to over 1,600 in 2020.

Oddly enough, Laub goes on to argue, the construction of the West Bank separation fence in the early 2000s, which cuts through the Arab-majority parts of Jerusalem, has helped to encouraged better relations.

Read more at Jerusalem Strategic Tribune

More about: East Jerusalem, Israeli Arabs, Jerusalem