Israel Procrastinates in Following Through on Its Commitments

10/20/2010 08:52 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Israel's ambassador to the United States Michael Oren said, according to Haaretz:

The Israeli government under PM Benjamin Netanyahu has not for a nanosecond reduced its commitment to peace.

I believe the ambassador is correct. Israel never had a problem with declaring its commitments. For example, consider Israel's Declaration of Independence from May 15, 1948.

WE EXTEND our hand to all neighbouring states and their peoples in an offer of peace and good neighbourliness, and appeal to them to establish bonds of cooperation and mutual help with the sovereign Jewish people settled in its own land. The State of Israel is prepared to do its share in a common effort for the advancement of the entire Middle East.

In his speech, the ambassador likened Netanayahu to Israel's first premier, David Ben-Gurion:

Like Ben-Gurion, Netanyahu will not allow the United Nations, or any other organization, to dictate our borders. They will be determined through negotiations.

I argue that it's useless to debate Israel's commitments, primarily its commitments to peace. Israelis have always wanted peace, regardless of political color.

While we don't have a problem declaring our commitments, we do have significant difficulties following-through on our commitments. Consider David Ben-Gurion and his colleagues.

Ben-Gurion declared the State of Israel, as recorded in the famed Declaration:

ACCORDINGLY WE, MEMBERS OF THE PEOPLE'S COUNCIL, REPRESENTATIVES OF THE JEWISH COMMUNITY OF ERETZ-ISRAEL AND OF THE ZIONIST MOVEMENT, ARE HERE ASSEMBLED ON THE DAY OF THE TERMINATION OF THE BRITISH MANDATE OVER ERETZ-ISRAEL AND, BY VIRTUE OF OUR NATURAL AND HISTORIC RIGHT AND ON THE STRENGTH OF THE RESOLUTION OF THE UNITED NATIONS GENERAL ASSEMBLY, HEREBY DECLARE THE ESTABLISHMENT OF A JEWISH STATE IN ERETZ-ISRAEL, TO BE KNOWN AS THE STATE OF ISRAEL.

And immediately, in the very next paragraph, he stated Israel's very first commitment (now as a declared Jewish State):

WE DECLARE that, with effect from the moment of the termination of the Mandate being tonight, the eve of Sabbath, the 6th Iyar, 5708 (15th May, 1948), until the establishment of the elected, regular authorities of the State in accordance with the Constitution which shall be adopted by the Elected Constituent Assembly not later than the 1st October 1948, the People's Council shall act as a Provisional Council of State, and its executive organ, the People's Administration, shall be the Provisional Government of the Jewish State, to be called "Israel".

David Ben-Gurion and the Zionist consensus of the time (not unlike today's) stated that the governing bodies of the State are provisional until a constitution is enacted by October 1, 1948.

If you are somewhat familiar with Israel, you'll know the State's key notion- - the combina. A combina is a Hebrew term, essentially untranslatable into English, which refers to bypassing commitments or rules. Each of us Israelis gets to decide which commitments or rules to follow and which to try to change. This is evidently not very easy to explain to Americans, who take commitments quite seriously. So Israelis devised Hasbara -- or explanation in Hebrew -- which is how we describe to Americans what commitments we choose to take seriously and to follow-through, and why we don't take the other commitments as seriously. In other words, Hasbara is how we explain why an excuse for not following-through on our commitments is actually a reason.

So Israel procrastinated in following-through on its very first commitment. It's a combina.

I suggest to ask Ambassador Oren not whether Israel is committed to peace, but how Israel is following-though on its commitments. And perhaps Ambassador Oren will be willing to specify what commitments the Prime Minister is taking seriously and what commitments he devises his combinot (plural for combina) in order to change them.

You should probably ask the ambassador in English, because I don't know how to translate the world "accountability" into Hebrew.

More on combina-land, or the Provisional State, to use David Ben-Gurion's branding, read Provisional Loyalty to Provisional State.