Sometimes it’s good to have a functioning government. Then again, sometimes it isn’t.
Consider the long-running battle between Israel and Palestinians. This week, new Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu -- beginning his second term as leader of the Jewish state -- made his obligatory stop in Washington to meet the U.S. leader.
Israel, of course, is a fully-functioning democracy, with regular elections and smooth transitions of power. If anything, it’s too democratic. As in many parliamentary governments, small, single-issue parties often have the ability to make or break national leaders.
President Barack Obama took advantage of the visit to press Netanyahu to do more to speed the Palestinian “peace process.” Let’s ignore the reasonable question of whether it’s even possible to have a “peace process.” If both sides wanted peace, there would be peace. If either doesn’t want peace, no “process” can generate it.
Still, “it is in the interests of Israel, the U.S. and the international community to achieve a two-state solution,” Obama said. “We have seen progress stalled on this front. I suggested to the prime minister he has a historic opportunity to get serious movement on this issue during his tenure.” The administration “appears ready to lean hard on Netanyahu,” wrote Washington Post columnist David Ignatius approvingly.
That’s fair enough, in one respect. After all, the Israelis were here, in the U.S. It was easier for Obama to lecture Netanyahu than to get some Palestinian on the phone and demand that he make concessions. And, Netanyahu conceded, “The important thing is to resume negotiations with the Palestinians as soon as possible. The issue is less one of terminology than of substance.”
Yet the Israeli should have added, “But with whom am I supposed to make a deal?” Because while an American leader can always publicly “lean on” his Israeli counterpart, there’s nobody on the Palestinian side to make peace with.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas doesn’t even control the West Bank, where his Fatah party is supposedly in power. For two years now, the other Palestinian province of Gaza has been run by Hamas, a terrorist group with no interest in peace talks of any sort. In fact, Hamas and Fatah can’t even make peace with each other, let alone with Israel.
There are supposed to be elections next year, which could possibly provide a “peace partner.” But Palestinian democracy is spotty at best. Recall that Yasser Arafat was elected to a five-year term in 1996, and died in office in 2005 without ever facing the voters again. In this case, the Palestinians benefit from having no functioning government.
Meanwhile back in the U.S., Californians are seeing the opposite side of the coin. Their state government functions too well at what governments do best: Spending money. In the last decade, state spending has almost doubled while (not surprisingly) population has been shrinking.
On Tuesday state voters overwhelmingly rejected five budget referenda that would have allowed lawmakers to borrow more in an attempt to close the state’s $21.3 billion budget deficit. Other than borrowing, what options are left? The Tax Foundation reports that Californians already pay $1,418 per person in income taxes (6th in the nation) and $1,117 per person in general sales taxes (13th in the nation). So it’s difficult to imagine lawmakers will be able to squeeze much more revenue out of them.
The Los Angeles Times suggests that lawmakers may finally consider a long overdue step: paring back the state’s bloated payroll. “In Sacramento, the focus was squarely on reducing the size of government,” the paper reported. “Although Democratic legislative leaders did not rule out new taxes or fees, they said they would not hesitate to make deep cuts that could antagonize their allies.”
Good luck with that “peace process.” During these recessionary times, employees nationwide have seen their salaries frozen or even trimmed. The Bureau of Labor Statistics says private sector pay increased just 1.9 percent in the last year. Meanwhile, state and local worker pay and benefits rose 3.1 percent.
And those government employees were well-paid even before the recession. As Steve Malanga of the Manhattan Institute wrote recently in The Wall Street Journal, “A study in 2005 by the nonpartisan Employee Benefit Research Institute estimated that the average public-sector worker earned 46 percent more in salary and benefits than comparable private-sector workers.”
The single referendum state voters approved was a measure to slash the salaries of state lawmakers when they cannot pass a balanced budget. No need to feel bad for these lawmakers, though. Even with the coming cut they’ll be the best paid in the country, earning $95,291 each. And that doesn’t count $35,000 a year in “living expenses.” That’s great pay for such lousy work.
Maybe democracy does work, after all.