Bye bye Peace Administration
A year ago the Knesset's Commission for Future Generations stopped functioning.
A year ago the Knesset's Commission for Future Generations stopped functioning. This body was meant to contribute a long-term viewpoint to legislative work. Its main role was to prevent decisions and legislation that would be regrettable for generations. The institution ceased operating because the tenure of the first commissioner, retired judge Shlomo Shoham, ended, and influential people in the Knesset argued that the commission was unnecessary, ineffective and wasted public funds.
Regardless of whether there was merit to these arguments, the commission's demise suggests that the Knesset could not bear its existence: The MKs are affected by day-to-day events and tangible interests, and a body that considers the broader horizon bothers them.
There are increasing signs that the Peace Administration, announced by Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni days before the Annapolis summit, will suffer a similar fate. It is being dismantled before it is even set up. The motive in both cases is the same: to avoid the conflict between routine political pressures and long-term considerations.
In preparation for setting up the Peace Administration, Livni met with people experienced in dialogue with the Palestinians to try to find the best mechanism for furthering negotiations. According to her interlocutors, Livni hoped to coordinate all the information on the core issues to be able to offer the Israeli negotiating teams the best possible options.
Indeed, this is the right way to think: to gather a varied team of advisers and experts to give the political leadership the most authoritative information on every complex and sensitive issue during the final-settlement negotiations. For this purpose, professionals or experienced individuals would be recruited, people who are not necessarily part of the political and bureaucratic establishment that deals each day with managing the conflict with the Palestinians.
Having a Peace Administration whose members, even if only some of them, are free from the thought processes resulting from this day-to-day interaction is necessary. Even more so when such a body will include people of significant influence who are free of political considerations in their role as advisers to the government on areas such as Jerusalem, borders and the right of return. In short, the Peace Administration is meant to have a very important role: to bring a historic viewpoint on relations between Israel and the Palestinians, preventing the negotiators from making fateful errors.
But in talks held since the Annapolis conference there is an inclination to forgo setting up a Peace Administration. The reason: "Such a body is not necessary for the negotiating phase now taking place with the Palestinians; at this moment, the negotiating team requires a professional staff that will provide position papers and background materials." What appears to be taking shape, therefore, is a professional staff that will pass on information to the politicians (Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Livni and Defense Minister Ehud Barak) who will guide the negotiating team (which will be headed by the foreign minister).
The change is not purely semantic. It smacks of a hesitation to treat the core issues in a significant way and of sufficing with some form of administrative-political coordination between the three political leaders. In other words, instead of holding serious negotiations for a final settlement, it appears that Olmert, Livni and Barak prefer to improve the way they conduct themselves vis-a-vis the Palestinians to minimize the friction between their ministries. This approach suggests an intention to staff the coordinating team largely with still-active civil servants (from the defense establishment, the Foreign Ministry and the Prime Minister's Office).
It is still not clear who will head the team - and even though it is absurd, the name of an army officer has been raised, if the prime minister does not ask for more options. But in light of the character this body seems to be taking, this is not a very significant point. It is not a Peace Administration they are establishing but a mechanism for administrative coordination. We can therefore conclude that the government does not seek a final settlement but an improvement of its day-to-day interactions with the Palestinians.
Even if expectations for this body have been intentionally lowered, saving Olmert from friction in the coalition, they are enough to fuel concerns that he is unable to come through on his promising declarations to end the conflict.