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Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Sunlight is the best disinfectant

In the past I've shared my opinion regarding Israel's current President.  Specifically, I've pointed out that he doesn't seem to fully grasp the scope of the duties that the President is expected to carry out... and the limitations of the office's powers / responsibilities.

Just in case he happens by this site, I'll (once again) provide the broad strokes:

The President of the State of Israel is not supposed to involve himself in partisan politics.  In fact, to ensure the apolitical nature of the role, Israeli law states that the president may "neither intervene politically nor express personal views on issues that divide the public".  [source]  

Personally, I can't think of any issue which has more potential to divide the public than negotiating the terms and conditions of a potential peace accord with the Palestinians.

Today, President Peres announced that he had secretly negotiated a peace agreement with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas back in 2011.  In the interview he complains that when he brought the draft agreement to Prime Minister Netanyahu, Bibi rejected it.

Here's the article.

I have a few problems with this.

First and foremost is the fact that negotiating with foreign powers, particularly those hostile to Israel, is the exclusive domain of the Prime Minister (or whomever he designates).  Holding secret negotiations with the PA is, by law, completely outside the scope of what the President is allowed to do.

Once we get past the problem of the President involved in negotiating the terms of a political agreement, we are faced with the additional damning fact that these negotiations were unsanctioned and carried out in secret without the knowledge or approval of the elected government.

President Peres seems to have a history of conveniently forgetting that Israel is a democracy with laws and statutes.  He is quick to accuse others of being anti-democratic when they don't agree with him, but does not seem to feel that he, himself, is bound by the laws of the land.

His most serious breach of law was when he and Yossi Beilin (then Foreign Minister and Deputy foreign Minister for foreign affairs, respectively) began the 'Oslo Process', a set of illegal negotiations with the PLO without the knowledge or approval of the government.  These negotiations were illegal because the PLO was defined as a terrorist organization, and Israeli law forbade such contact with an organization so defined.

Once the Oslo process was so far progressed that it would have been nearly impossible to back-track did Peres and Beilin bring then Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin into the loop, and presented him with a fait accompli.  For Rabin to have rejected the draft agreement would have made him appear anti-peace (just as Peres is now attempting to make Netanyahu look anti-peace for having rejected Peres' latest secretly negotiated agreement).

Israel's leftists makes a big show of supporting democracy and the rule of law when they perceive that anyone on the political right appears to be motivated by ideals or principles not enshrined in the letter of Israeli Law (such as when there is friction between adherence to Jewish law and adherence to civil and/or military law).

Yet when it comes to advancing their own agenda, Israeli law is often treated as a body of suggestions.

I am tired of secret negotiations which are presented to the public as 'done deals' so that anyone who finds the methods or content objectionable is immediately labeled 'unpatriotic' or 'anti-peace'.

I have never met a single Israeli - right or left wing -  who is anti-peace.  I mean seriously, ask yourself this: What parent, if given the choice, would prefer to have their children serve in a wartime military than one tasked with maintaining peace?  

There is an old saying that 'Laws are like sausages... it is best not to see how they are made'.  And to a certain extent, I agree that, in politics, one expects that a lot of back-room horse trading will take place between lawmakers.

But laws can be repealed or revised to suit the changing political mores and preferences of the population... while treaties negotiated between states and powers are binding and not so easily set aside.  So to conduct so critical aspect of Israel's long-term foreign policy in secret, without the knowledge or guidance of the elected government, is anathema to democratic values.  

Yet this is precisely what Shimon Peres has done throughout his career.  He sees no problem with admitting that he violated the rules / limitations of his own office, and has the chutzpah to complain that when he did so, the sitting Prime Minister didn't roll over and eat the fruits of his poisoned tree.

Secrecy has its place.  But if we Israelis will have to live with the results of some future peace accord with the Palestinians, it is paramount that we are aware of what is being negotiated in our name.  

If we've learned anything from the failed Oslo Accords, it is that any deal hatched in darkness is doomed to failure once it is brought out into the light of day.

Sunlight truly is the best disinfectant.

Posted by David Bogner on May 7, 2014 | Permalink


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Spot on as usual.
Good to see a fresh post.

Posted by: Michael Harbater | May 7, 2014 3:03:38 PM

why is he still in office of president?

Posted by: dave | May 7, 2014 4:36:01 PM

Michael Harbater... Great to 'see' you too. Hope you will be visiting soon so we can catch up.

Dave... Because he seems to have convinced enough others that he actually is above the law.

Posted by: treppenwitz | May 7, 2014 5:25:57 PM

If this is how Peres conducts himself as President,what can we expect when he is free from all constraints of the office.Old age can sometimes bring on delusions,and Peres has a great many.

Posted by: ED | May 8, 2014 8:28:23 PM

Great post. Shimon Peres has long suffered delusions of grandeur. As you noted, he has repeatedly either broken the law outright; or operated behind the backs of his bosses and colleagues. (I don't think he has ever admitted to anyone being his boss.) It is a sad reflection on the Israeli public that they've kept rewarding him over the years, and repeatedly promoted him and his chauvinistic, autocratic manner. We can only thank God that he hasn't done even more damage during his career.

Posted by: Mordechai Y. Scher | May 13, 2014 12:49:35 AM

I am tired of secret negotiations which are presented to the public as 'done deals' so that anyone who finds the methods or content objectionable is immediately labeled 'unpatriotic' or 'anti-peace'.

Really, I think that Oslo, which got us a murdered PM and an intifada, has ensured that one can risk only being labeled "sensible" for canning a similar deal.

Posted by: Rich | May 13, 2014 5:18:15 AM

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