Religion, in One Way or Another, Is Part of America’s Social Contract

Surveying the deep divisions and intense passions that have seized American public discourse since 2016, and some of the attacks on traditional politics from both right and left, Suzanne Garment sees a threat to the country’s underlying social contract, which she terms the “American deal.” Garment defines this deal “as a set of political ideas that have persisted in this country over the past couple of centuries and, most of the time, have kept our political arrangements from falling apart.” Of the twelve rules she enumerates as constituting this deal, the fourth is that “most Americans are religious, more or less.”

Today, lots of people are more inclined to call it “spiritual”; certainly large numbers of citizens have drifted away from organized religious denominations. As a result, we’re surprised when we get seemingly anomalous news, like the story of female religious orders that are growing once more because millennials are interested in becoming nuns.

Moreover, numbers aren’t the sole measure of the influence; there’s nothing like religion to remind us of the salience of intensity. Sometimes the story is that religious influence has prompted a state legislature to ban abortion after a term of eight weeks; sometimes the news is about Muslim, Jewish, and Christian clergy joining together to guard a sanctuary after a hate crime.

Almost nothing is embedded more deeply than religion in the American fabric. Other elements of the Bill of Rights may have equal respect, and at least one item—the Second Amendment—periodically explodes in importance, as it’s exploding now. But none of them matches religion, unruly and unpredictable, as an ineradicable part of the deal.

Read more at American Interest

More about: Donald Trump, Religion and politics, U.S. Politics

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