The judicial principle of “reasonableness”, the environment, dialogue, and cross-border work

A personal reflection by Eliza Mayo, Deputy Director

Eliza Mayo at a demonstration for democracy in the Southern Arava

Last week the Knesset passed the reasonableness bill which, if implemented, will strip Israel’s Supreme Court of the power to declare government decisions unreasonable.

Reasonableness can be a somewhat vague concept. It can be best explained by my translation of a meme making the rounds in pro-democracy Whatsapp groups:

‘Do you know why they want to cancel the reasonableness principle?” asked Pooh.
“I have no idea” answered Piglet.
“Because they want to do things that are not reasonable,” said Pooh.

Many environmental protection laws in Israel were adjudicated in the Supreme Court and upheld via the reasonableness principle. Similarly, human rights issues were often addressed using this doctrine. A strong functional judiciary helps to guarantee the rights of minorities and those who are unrepresented—such as future generations and nature itself. The passing of the judicial reasonableness cancellation bill last week was aimed at dismantling these protections and thus the first step in the dismantling of Israeli democracy as we know it.

While saddened, I find myself not so surprised by this. The Israeli occupation of the West Bank and I are approximately the same age. There are 2+ generations in Israel and Palestine who know no other reality. Ultimately, I believe this is all connected — ‘reasonableness’ and upholding core democratic values must be for all, and not just for some (or more for some than for others). Humans and justice are core elements of sustainability, environmental cooperation, and climate resilience.

The repeal of the reasonableness clause is only one of this government’s acts that are harmful to environmental protection and justice. Examples of other acts by the current government that endanger the environment include the cancelation of past decisions such as taxation of disposables (dishes and cutlery), the advancement of a weakening of the clean air act, and a proposal weakening (removing almost all) the authority of the Forestry administrator whose approval is needed to uproot trees.

At the Institute, I take great pride in our cross-border work for climate justice and the environment, based on relationships of trust, built from dialogue and working together. This is challenging given the power imbalances inherent in any cooperative work between Israelis and Palestinians. And yet, I truly believe that any conflict can be solved ultimately through dialogue, trust-building, and hard work together.

When asked what political solution I personally prefer for the region, I usually answer — whatever solution has been arrived at by dialogue and good-faith negotiations that lead to a mutually-agreed-upon and just solution. A naïve answer perhaps, given the generations of mistrust.

Clearly, the current political moment is too fraught for governmental negotiations between Israel and Palestine. (And this, before even vaguely considering other broader political constraints and issues in Palestine, in Israel, and in our larger region).

And so, we at the Institute continue our work together with partners to improve the environment and thus, lives in the region, to bolster climate resilience, and to prove through this that it is possible to build trust.

And after work, I (as do many of our staff and alumni in Israel) demonstrate to preserve Israeli democracy (flawed such as it is) to preserve academic freedom, freedom of speech, the environment, minority rights, and general ‘reasonableness’.

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