Thursday, November 16, 2006

Israel's Government Sessions

The Ramon sexual harassment case has provided a voyeur's view into...the government meeting room.

The newspaper clipping below (from Ma'ariv, Nov. 16, p. 8) contains a few lines I found fascinating. For those you can read Hebrew, look at the last paragraph in the right-hand column, three lines from the bottom.

For those who need a translation, Ramon is asked by the judge, how could it be that at a fateful government session dealing with the Lebanese War he took out time to enter the soldier's phone number in his cell phone.

Ramon replies, "Generally, the first hour of the government meeting is important. Afterwards, the ministers begin to speak and this is generally not interesting...".

By itself, this is hilarious. But then I noticed this Haaretz story:-

A recently published article severely criticizes Israel's diplomatic and security decision-making processes. Chuck Freilich, former deputy head of the National Security Council, wrote the article for Autumn 2006 issue of the Middle East Journal.

Israeli leaders are motivated largely by trying to remain in office and to satisfy their coalition partners, and Israeli policy is characterized by a lack of organized planning and reactions to passing events, Freilich writes.

Israel's decision-making system, Freilich says, acts under two major constraints: the security threat to the country, and the proportional representation electoral system, which, he says, causes extreme politicization of the process. Over the years, the number and complexity of the agencies dealing with national security in Israel has grown considerably, but this has not found expression in the decision-making process. He adds: The Israeli National Security Council, which was set up in 1999, has a marginal position, and prime ministers prefer to lean on personal advisers. The three previous prime ministers, he notes, all used the services of personal lawyers for sensitive diplomatic missions.

In his analysis of the "pathology" of Israel's decision-making process, Freilich points out that the prime minister has no staff of his own; that the government is a federation of ministers appointed because of their political sway rather than their executive talents; and that the government usually makes its decisions without discussing alternatives, essentially merely approving decisions prepared in advance. The problem is not just the lack of a suitable decision-making forum at the national level, he writes, but also a lack of actual policies. Prime ministers find this convenient, because they are not committed to a formal policy and can change their positions at will.

[Here's the abstract:

National Security Decision-Making in Israel: Processes, Pathologies, and Strengths
Charles D. Freilich

This article presents a first of its kind typology of Israeli national security decision-making processes, focusing on five primary pathologies and a number of strengths. It will demonstrate that these pathologies are the product of an extraordinarily compelling external environment and domestic structural factors: chiefly, the extreme politicization of the decision-making process stemming from the proportional representation electoral system, the consequent need to govern through coalition cabinets, and the absence of effective cabinet-level decision-making support capabilities.]

So, next time you think the government ministers know what they are doing, think again. One could be entering into his cell phone memory a girlfriend's number and a few others could be daydreaming.

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