Before the storm hits

Before the storm hits

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at his weekly cabinet meeting on Sept. 3. ABIR SULTAN/AFP/Getty Images
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at his weekly cabinet meeting on Sept. 3. ABIR SULTAN/AFP/Getty Images

Is there a connection between the lessons learned from Hurricane Harvey, which devastated much of southeast Texas last week, and the Jerusalem government’s views on peace with the Palestinians?

On the surface the comparison seems odd, if not absurd. But a thoughtful essay by Michael Koplow, policy director of the Israel Policy Forum in Washington, D.C., bears reflection and response. His column on the IPF website suggests that while state officials in Texas sought to prepare for the storm, they were ultimately at the mercy of an act of nature. By contrast, he writes, the Israeli government should be planning to respond to “a different kind of disaster coming Israel’s way that, unlike Harvey, can be planned for in a far more adequate way.”

The key here is in preparing for a worst-case scenario, Koplow asserts. He points out that in anticipating Harvey, Texas officials were divided over whether to evacuate cities like Houston or urge people to stay put. They had prepared emergency supplies and designated large public facilities to be used as shelters, but in hindsight it’s clear they did not plan for the kind of unprecedented destructive force that Harvey turned out to be.

Turning to the Mideast, Koplow notes that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is doubling down on holding on to the West Bank, declaring last week that the state will never again evacuate a settlement. This is based on the prime minister’s view that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict cannot be resolved and should instead be managed, waiting for conditions to improve. 

But what if conditions deteriorate instead, and, for example, the Palestinians stop advocating for statehood and instead demand Israeli citizenship? Not preparing for this kind of worst-case scenario could be disastrous, Koplow says. Israel would have no Palestinian entity to negotiate with and would have to choose between being a democracy or a Jewish state. 

With a physically and politically weakened Mahmoud Abbas losing his grip on Palestinian society, some Palestinian leaders are already talking about shutting down the failed Palestinian Authority and calling for full political and civil rights in Israel. That would be an especially hard cause for Israel to counter — one person, one vote — but if enacted would add two million Palestinian citizens to a state that would lose its Jewish character.

Koplow faults the Jerusalem government for not recognizing that “this scenario is even a possibility” and for assuming “that because Palestinians want their own state now, it will always be.” He maintains that “it is alarmingly negligent to promote policies that not only do not take this into account but actually hasten the breakdown itself.”

Better to deal with a worst-case scenario — whether it’s a natural disaster or a political one — in advance, when one has options, then when the crisis is out of your control.  n

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