Friday, March 29, 2013

I Don't Get It, Israel

OK, Israel, let's go through this whole peace thing logically.

First of all, the only possibilities are a one-state solution and a two-state solution, right? (We can assume that a no-state solution and a more-than-two-state solution are not possibilities.) Start with a one-state solution.

The version that Arabs, including Israeli Arabs, mostly favor is a "state of all its citizens," i.e., not a Jewish state. An overwhelming majority of Jewish Israelis will be against this, so let's skip it.

The alternative is one Jewish state. Advocates presumably don't envision granting Israeli citizenship to the two million Arabs on the West Bank, so... I'm not sure what they envision. Possibly somehow expelling all the Arabs from the West Bank. That would be such a bloody process that it's not worth rational consideration.You think Israel's a pariah state now? You think even most American Jews will stand up for you?

Or you could continue the status quo forever, with two million people lacking basic freedom who hate you, and the army obliged to keep a lid on the whole thing. But why on earth would you want to? How many people in Israel really care deeply about who's in charge of Hebron?

If Israelis want to be, at some point in the future, a normal country, there has to be a two-state solution, meaning one Jewish state and one Arab state. Now, you may say that's not possible right now, because Israel has no "partner." Fine. But a two-state solution has to be the endpoint, whether it's next year or in five years or in fifty years.

What does that imply? It implies that at some point, next year or in five years or in fifty years, the Palestinians are going to get more or less all of the West Bank for a state. Can we imagine that this state will contain within it Israeli settlements, an archipelago of little islands of Israeli extraterritoriality? No, we cannot imagine that. How would they be defended? Is Israel going to set up checkpoints in another country?

Conclusion: If you're for a two-state solution, then you have to admit that at some point in the (possibly distant) future, the isolated settlements will have to go. But if they have to go eventually (say in ten years), what possible sense can it make to be building them now? It's just throwing good money after bad.

Conclusion: If you're building settlements, you're not serious about a two-state solution. You're not a "partner" for the Palestinians.

So the Palestinian Authority's refusal to enter negotiations without a freeze on settlement construction  seems completely reasonable. What would be the point? It would be like Israel negotiating over whether it has a right to exist. (Whether the PA's refusal to negotiate is wise is another question.)

Logically, then, it seems that there is no way to be for both a two-state solution and settlement construction. Note that this has nothing to do with Israel's security needs. One could make a security argument (though not a very good one) for Israel holding on to the West Bank. But that has nothing to do with settlements. The settlements add nothing to security; if anything they reduce it. Note also that it has nothing to do with whether the Palestinians are ready for peace negotiations, as long as you think that they will be at some point in the future.

To sum up, here are the logical possibilities as I see them:

  • One state that is not a Jewish state
  • One state that is a Jewish state, with expulsion of two million Arabs
  • One state that is Jewish state, with two million people under military occupation forever
  • Two states
It seems to me that settlement construction is consistent with any of the first three of these outcomes, but not with the fourth, two states.

So what gives, Israel? Are you for a two-state solution or not? I'm well aware, actually, that Israel is not a person and so cannot be held to the same standards of rationality as an individual. But when you say you accept a two-state solution and yet have coalition members who advocate, or rather demand, more settlement construction, you're behaving either illogically or in bad faith. I'm looking at you, Bibi Netanyahu.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Magazine Article of the Decade


We know that America has much higher health care costs than any other country. But why? Where is the money going?  The author tries to track it. I was surprised by his answers.

Read it. You won't be sorry.

Federalize Federal Elections

Election rules have been in the news a lot lately. In the State of the Union, Obama announced the creation of a bipartisan commission to find ways to reduce waiting times at polling places. The implicit assumption behind this commission is that waiting times are a problem of bad management rather than politics (for instance, they will survey customer service specialists), despite the fact that waiting times for whites in 2012 were almost 40% shorter than for blacks and Hispanics, and that in some places this appears to have affected turnout.

There was also considerable and heated controversy over changes in early voting hours and photo ID requirements, which some people claimed disadvantaged blacks, students, and other Democratic-leaning groups. Finally, a few days ago we had the Supreme Court oral arguments on a section of the Voting Rights Act, highlighted by Justice Scalia referring to it as a "perpetuation of racial entitlements" which are known  ("It's been written about.") to be very difficult to get rid of.

Rather than fighting over each effort to change election laws, it's time to cut the Gordian knot. We should simply have one Federal law that applies to all Federal elections around the country. One rule for voter ID and hours, one type of voting machine, even one non-partisan commission to redistrict. Why do we think it is normal to have partisan (often highly partisan) elected officials overseeing elections? Why do we think the gerrymander is normal? Why shouldn't honest democracy be the norm?

The usual objection is that this would impinge upon the Constitutional responsibilities of the states. Here is avatar of the conventional wisdom David Brooks, Friday on the PBS Newshour:

"These are states' obligations. This is a state matter. And so it becomes a little hard to nationalize it."

Well, hang on just a minute. Here's the Constitution, Article I, Section 4, first paragraph, as originally ratified and never amended:

The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations, except as to the Places of chusing Senators.

That seems pretty clear. Federalizing Federal elections is not only Constitutional, but is an eventuality foreseen by the Framers. The problem is not legal but political. In the current environment in Washington it's hard to get Republicans to vote even for things they favor (e.g., the individual mandate), let alone things that would reduce their current electoral advantage.

Still, it's time to start moving the Overton Window on this issue. What's impossible this year may be law in five years.

Friday, March 1, 2013

The Antinomy of the Pope

There is a logical paradox that you have probably encountered (though probably not by name) known as "the antinomy of the liar" (no, not antimony). One simple form is when a man says, "Now I am lying." You know the rest: If he's lying when he says "I am lying," then he's telling the truth. But if he's telling the truth about his lying, then he must be lying. And so on. Some of you may have seen an episode from the original Star Trek series where a version of this paradox caused the beautiful female robots to say, "Norman... analyze..." as smoke started to come out of their heads.

So all the recent news from the Vatican has got me wondering. Papal infallibility has been official Church dogma only since 1870. What if the new pope issues an encyclical saying he's not infallible? Should Catholics believe him?