When Menachem Begin was elected Israeli prime minister in 1977 no one imagined that he, the epitome of a right winger, would bring about the Camp David Accords.
And yet, it was Begin who brokered peace between Israel and Egypt.
In 1983 and then, again, in 1986 when Yitzhak Shamir was elected prime minister of Israel liberals were very upset. And yet, in 1983, it was Shamir who negotiated the agreement to end the War in Lebanon.
And in 1991 it was Shamir who led Israel’s delegation to the Madrid Peace Talks, the precursor to the Oslo Accords.
Ariel Sharon was a hawk’s hawk. During his tenure as Israel’s prime minister, he turned into a dove. His 2001 election to office sent American liberal Jews into a tizzy. And yet, in August of 2005, Sharon unilaterally withdrew all Israeli settlers and army forces from Gaza and handed the entire area over to the Palestinians. Turn key. Settlers and soldiers just up and left. Flowers still in their greenhouses.
Sharon handed all of Gaza to the Palestinian Authority.
These were all rightwing Israeli governments. They all had their problems - but they had their good points too. Like all Israeli governments, the prime ministers rose to the occasion.
It is a given fact that many Americans, from the White House down to people on the street, have difficulty with Israel’s conservative policies. Regardless of the ruling party and government in Jerusalem, the United States feels the need to advise and warn and chide Israel about their internal and foreign policies.
It is a patronizing relationship that has developed over the years. It is akin to the relationship between older and younger siblings.
The U.S. characterizes it as a relationship based on friendship.
At first glance, this new Israeli government does seem different. Benjamin Netanyahu is a known commodity, having held the premiership more often than any other in Israeli history. And that scares the United States, U.S. Jewry and the U.S. politic, alike.
This newly elected government promises to reform the judiciary. They feel it gives overwhelming power over the legislative and executive branches of government.
This newly elected government wants to neuter that power by empowering the legislature to override the supreme court ruling with a simple majority vote of 61 out of 120 votes in the Knesset. The effect would be to render the Supreme Court powerless as a check in the balance of power.
A more modest and effective path — with a better chance of passing a Knesset vote —would be a two-thirds majority vote in the legislature. Two-thirds would illustrate that the overwhelming majority of the legislature disagrees with a decision. But they’re not asking my opinion.
It is a mistake for the new government to hope to reform the justice system and defang the Supreme Court. It would truly alter the very nature of Israel’s democracy.
The independence of the judiciary is an essential part of the balance of power. Some argue that the people’s voice is the legislature not the voices of the elite hyper educated judiciary.
But, unlike in the U.S., justices on the Israeli Supreme Court have an age limit. Mandatory retirement is at 70. There is constant injection of new people.
Of 15 justices on the court, six are women, one is Arab. One was born in the U.S., one in the U.K., one in Moldova (Former USSR).
So, what’s irking the White House? Let’s look at the Israeli response to the Palestinian Authority orchestrating a United Nations vote, held on December 30th, to take Israel to the World Court. Israel’s response was to launch a series of actions against PA leadership.
In response, Israel has withdrawn the special travel permits of PA VIPs to travel freely in and out of Israel. When, for example, PA Foreign Minister Riyad al Maliki was returning from Europe via Amman, Jordan, he was stuck at the Allenby Bridge. Israel maintains that border and they asked him to please get in line with everyone else. No more VIP status for the PA foreign minister.
If the PA is aggressively suing Israel, Israel reasons, there is no reason Israel should extend VIP status to their representatives. Sounds reasonable enough.
Here’s another Israeli response. Israel will not transfer the $40 million per month in taxes they collect for the PA at Israeli ports. Why? Because the Palestinian Authority continues to pay terrorists and their families who have murdered Israelis. It’s called Pay to Slay.
The decision to withhold the taxes was passed into Israeli law years ago. Only now is it being applied. It’s perfectly legal.
The lesson is — there are local consequences to the PA’s international steps. They need to know that.
The bottom line is that, in many ways, this new government is defining itself.
This new government will make mistakes — every government makes mistakes. But let’s wait until those mistakes are made before the brutal critique and condemnation gushes forth. Remember, their forbears were Begin, Shamir and Sharon.
Micah Halpern is a political and foreign affairs commentator. He founded "The Micah Report" and hosts "Thinking Out Loud with Micah Halpern," a weekly TV program, and "My Chopp," a daily radio spot. Follow him on Twitter @MicahHalpern. Read Micah Halpern's Reports — More Here.
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