Text size

The preparations for the great celebration of democracy are accelerating and attracting increasing attention: The Palestinian people are about to hold historic elections in another month. More than one million people will choose the rais [president] who will lead the Palestinian Authority to negotiations with Israel, whose government will hopefully abandon its policy of "no partner."

More than 6,000 volunteers from abroad will supervise the elections, and millions from the funds of "the donor countries" will finance what the Palestinians define as "our big test, the moment of truth." Everyone shares the feeling that this is indeed a momentous occasion.

About three weeks later, general elections will take place in Iraq - the plan to democratize the Middle East will be implemented and finally justify the bloody war in Iraq.

Remembering the difficulties Israel raised prior to the elections in 1996, particularly regarding the participation of East Jerusalem residents, the Americans were prepared to exert massive pressure on the government of Israel. But to their surprise, the prime minister and foreign minister responded in a moderate way, and the matter of principle "that threatened to cast doubt upon Israel's sovereignty in East Jerusalem" will find a generous and flexible solution.

How did it happen that such a symbolic and ideological issue, which less than a decade ago provoked a bitter dispute between the "Oslo camp" and the right wing led by Sharon, is passing relatively quietly this time? The American threat could be cited as an excuse for the government's flexibility, but it seems that the prime minister should be given more credit and his readiness to allow elections in East Jerusalem should be seen as evidence of the fact that, unlike those who speak for him on the right and left, he recognizes the reality that has overtaken ideology.

Just as he understood the change that took place in the significance of the settlement enterprise and in the concept of "the Palestinian state," Sharon has recognized that the voting of East Jerusalem Arabs could serve as a precedent and example for solving "the demographic issue" and a comfortable formula for "a Jewish and democratic state": Palestinian residents of Israel would vote for government institutions outside of Israel's sovereign borders, thus preventing the danger of Israel becoming a binational country, heaven forbid.

Today, a precedent is being set in regard to several tens of thousands of people: They are being granted the right to vote by the government of Israel, though not within Israel's borders. (It is true that in this case this is being done in accordance with a demand made by the Palestinians themselves.) Tomorrow, this precedent - which, of course, has won praise from overseas and will be enthusiastically supported by the Zionist left when it reaches the Knesset - can be used and extended to areas of the West Bank, which would be annexed to Israel under Sharon's plan of cantons. In this way, land could be annexed without its residents, and Israel could still feel supremely democratic and liberal.

Eight years ago, when the hopes of establishing an independent Palestinian state were still realistic, the elections had real meaning. Now the whole process revolves around the elections of someone who will indeed win legitimacy as a leader but will be either a collaborator or scapegoat from Israel's perspective.

It is no wonder that the extreme right is not protesting these elections. Uri Ariel even regards them as "a positive precedent" (Yedioth Ahronoth, November 19), and outlines the right's plan for the Palestinians in Judea and Samaria to vote for the Jordanian parliament, while their brothers in the Gaza Strip vote for the Egyptian parliament.

There are now more and more fallacious signs fostering the illusion that a window of opportunity has opened for an accord based on rapprochement. But, in practice, the interpretation that strengthens the powerful at the expense of the weak - with international backing - is still continuing. The voting of Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem is another example.