Pence is Sending an Important Message
In the news: Shortly after arriving in Israel, Vice President Mike Pence announced that the U.S. Embassy would open in Jerusalem before the close of 2019, adding to the general fanfare of his visit.
A comment: Is this an important visit? Many Israelis say no – because they do not expect any diplomatic breakthrough to follow it, and because Pence is in Israel without even having the benefit of meeting with the leaders of the Palestinians.
An opposite view can be proposed: the importance of Pence’s visit stems from the fact that he does not meet with Palestinians. Pence is sending an important message by having this visit: US-Israel relations will no longer be held hostage to a peace process or lack thereof.
Eliminate Slowly, Eliminate with Care
In the news: President Trump followed through with plans to cut funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA). The decision has enraged Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who denounced Israel and the United States in a speech to the PLO Central Council, and some analysts fear that cutting aid to UNRWA will destabilize the region.
A comment: The choice with UNRWA, as with many Middle East problems, is not one between ideal (elimination) and terrible (keeping the status quo). It is between a known bad situation and the fear of what might happen in case we attempt to change it. UNRWA should be eliminated, but the process must be well managed, to avoid humanitarian crisis, or radicalization of the population.
Thus, Trump is doing the right thing by cutting half the budget. On the one hand, this means that he is serious about the need for radical reform of the current situation. On the other hand, it gives UNRWA and all those concerned with the fate of Palestinian refugees a time to prepare for the ultimate elimination of the unnecessary, harmful, organization.
A Mutually Beneficial Shabbat Fight
In the news: Knesset infighting has reached a boiling point in the wake of Avigdor Lieberman’s show of support for protests in Ashdod against the Shabbat Bill. Leaders of Ultra-Orthodox Knesset parties, Shas and UTJ, are fed up with Lieberman, and Lieberman is equally fed up with Shas and UTJ in return.
A comment: Who needs another Shabbat war? That’s easy: count the politicians who wage the fight. These are the people who need it. Especially so the two new rivals in chief, formerly best buddies, Shas leader Aryeh Deri and Israel Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman.
Both look at the polls and worry about their futures. Both need to convince a dwindling constituency that they still have something to offer. Of course, one has to be a cynic to suspect that the newly found rivalry was prearranged for mutual benefit. Then again, these are two of the most cynical politicians we have.