We sit and wait for it to blow up in our face
Op-ed: King Abdullah's decision not to renew Israel's lease on the Arava and Naharayim lands is not really a huge surprise, but a reflection of Israel's dysfunctional governmental organizations, and the tendency to postpone handling serious matters to the last minute.
It appears as if the last Jordanian move—King Abdullah's decision not to renew Israel's lease on the lands in the Arava and Naharayim—has come to us as a total surprise.
I don't like to quote myself, but will make an exception and cite from an article I published here over a year ago, following the tension with Jordan over the Temple Mount events, in which an Israeli security guard shot and killed (among others) a Jordanian citizen.
I finished the article saying this: "For many months now, we are living in a situation according to which, no diplomatic activity happens unless the Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads it himself. As talented as he may be, this is not the way to handle foreign affairs, and the crisis with Jordan is only one example."
It has been more than a year and it seems the current crisis has similar characteristics. There are two reasons for this crisis, beyond what it was that caused Jordan to decide what it had.
The first reason is the weakness of all Israeli governmental bodies, other than security forces and the prime minister himself. In Jordan's case, we are talking about three such organizations:
The first is the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The crisis with Jordan last year and the fragility of the peace treaty with this strategic country, call for extra attention on our side.
In the article I just quoted, I advised that our ambassador in Jordan be one of exceptional political and security background and status, so he or she can be in direct contact with both the king and Israeli high officials. This did not happen.
The second organization is the National Security Council, whose role is to be a dominant body in determining the agenda of government and cabinet discussions. However, I think that de facto, this is not the case. There are too many tactical debates about Gaza, while the less noisy but more important matters are being neglected.
The third body is the Ministry for Regional Cooperation. Over 80 percent of its activity concerns with Jordan.
None of these three bodies identified the problem, despite the long lasting Jordanian public and political debate regarding the lease to Israel. Like I said—if the prime minister doesn't initiate things, it appears no one does.
The second reason lies in the bad Israeli habit to wait until a crisis blows up in our faces, and only then recall to respond and react.
An example: in March 2009 a first case of swine flu was identified in Mexico. A month later it was declared an epidemic in the US. It went on for three months, and in Israel nothing was done in order to prevent this from happening here.
Only in July of that year, after 30 Israelis had died of swine flu, the government urgently convened and took a number of historical decisions, like acquiring millions of Shekels worth vaccines—some of which had already been proven ineffective.
And another example: in February 2010, Israel had concrete intelligence regarding the intentions of the IHH organization and of Turkey to send a large flotilla to break the Israeli siege on Gaza.
The flotilla arrived near the Gaza shore region on May 31st that year. A government discussion with the prime minister took place only four days before that, and when it did, Israel's options were already limited to one—a noisy IDF takeover of the ship.
If a debate would have taken place three months prior to that, much better ways to handle the situation could have been planned.
And back to the current Jordan crisis: I assume that before King Abdullah's declaration, Israel could have had a discrete dialogue with him and reach a reasonable compromise.
The prime minister said on Sunday that we will negotiate with Jordan, after the Jordanian king had already committed in public not to prolong the lease. This reflects well the typical Israeli way to go about things—to deal with the right issue, but at the wrong time.