The Case for Cancelling the Reasonableness Clause

Last Tuesday, Israel’s Supreme Court heard the opening arguments concerning an amendment to the Basic Law governing the court’s own function, passed by the Knesset on July 24. The Basic Laws function in the lieu of a constitution, as the Jewish state does not have one. According to the amendment, the court may no longer countermand the government’s decisions on the grounds that they lack reasonableness; the petitioners hold that this amendment is itself unconstitutional, and the High Court should strike it down. Herewith, an excerpt from the government’s brief stating its case before the court. (Translation by Mida.)

The Government of Israel contends that, the state of Israel being a democracy, the source and authority of all government agencies is the sovereign—meaning the people, the citizens of Israel. Israeli citizens are represented in the Knesset, in a manner established in Basic and regular laws, thus authority and its source are derived from the rules established by the Knesset—the Basic Laws—and none supersedes them.

The Government of Israel contends that as Israel abides by the rule of law, no person or body stands above the law. And should the law be subject to Basic Laws, as per the doctrine developed by this esteemed court, then no man or body stands above the Basic Laws. . . .

The petitioners ask the esteemed court to deviate from preeminent foundational precepts, premises widely accepted up until recently. It has always been obvious that in a system of law, judges are subject to the law as established by someone other than the judges, to whom they must defer. Judges are not masters of themselves, nor are they masters of the law; their actions are circumscribed by the law and the Basic Law; just as are the other government bodies. At times, if the letter of the law is clear they cannot give succor. Their politics or values cannot supersede a clear law or find their way into its language.

The creator of laws is the legislature. It is it that must aspire to just laws. However, modern democracies are not content to trust the legislature. Many of them create mechanisms that check and balance the governing power, including the legislative authority, in order to prevent a slide into harmful and unjustified government use of power. The courts review the actions of the legislative and executive branches of government. However, in their turn, the courts do so within the bounds of the authority invested in them, the source of which is also of the sovereign’s direction through its representatives.

Read more at Mida

More about: Israeli democracy, Israeli Judicial Reform, 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