Without Striving for Peace, Democracy Will Unravel

Removing peace from Israel’s vision for the future and its strategic goals threatens the very future of the state.

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A Jewish settler walks with his son in the West Bank settlement of Maon, south of Hebron. June 24, 2015.
A Jewish settler walks with his son in the West Bank settlement of Maon, south of Hebron. June 24, 2015.Credit: Reuters

Since the early 2000s, a government-inspired paradigm shift has occurred in Israeli society – from dealing with a serious but temporary conflict with the Palestinians that could be resolved with an agreement, to a conflict with a fundamental and eternal enemy, which cannot be resolved diplomatically.

This paradigm shift means, among other things, a switch from transience to permanence of the expulsive settlement enterprise in the West Bank, and a switch from an emergency situation to a permanent situation in which the abnormal has become the norm.

This change has had major implications for Israel’s democracy. Democracy as a form of government in which the citizens are the sovereign has ceased to be viewed as an ideal by society. For how can a commitment to democracy be reconciled with the denial of another people’s sovereignty over its land and the resulting denial of their civil and political rights?

Living permanently by the sword with no hope of peace in sight makes basic democratic rights seem like luxuries that are unaffordable under the current circumstances. Freedom of expression – particularly the right to criticize the government, the right to assemble and the right to demonstrate – has come under attack. In order to convince the public to accept a reality of endless conflict, the government is taking steps to normalize the occupation, to remove references to the settlements as “a problem” from public debate, and to silence opposing voices. Those who adhere to a different paradigm are delegitimized and portrayed as enemies.

Moreover, the government also has an interest in proving the existence of an irresolvable conflict, and a certain level of flames, which the government hopes to control, is necessary to prove this thesis. Controlled violence is also good for perpetuating the rule of the right.

Consequently, regardless of what the Palestinians do, they will always be called terrorists. Their actions on the diplomatic, public relations and legal fronts will always be considered new forms of terror. As a result, Israel’s persistent message to the Palestinians is that the only way they can achieve anything is by violence against Israel.

The permanent state of occupation and settlement colors the way Israeli Jews see the Palestinians. It conveys the impression that Palestinians are inferior and therefore do not deserve the right given to every nation. In addition, the occupation itself turns them into enemies. In such circumstances, the concept of equality – the very basis of democratic rule – dissolves. And this process is not limited to the West Bank: because Israeli Arabs are part of the Palestinian people, the civil discourse is seen as not relevant to them. The idea of equal rights and opportunities for all citizens – the essence of democracy – becomes a utopian idea, not part of a binding, normative reality.

A regime in which an occupying state settles its citizens in occupied territory in violation of international law cannot maintain the rule of law in the occupied territory. This is because it cannot be unbiased in relation to the two populations – the local populations and the settlers. This model of unequal law enforcement seeps into Israel itself and undermines the rule of law there, too.

A state in which the real scope of basic rights varies from population to population, and protesters are treated differently depending upon the group they belong to and their worldview, is not truly a state governed by the rule of law.

For this reason – and because making the seizure of lands in the territories contravenes international law – the government’s logic demands that the Supreme Court and the Attorney General’s Office be neutralized as institutions committed to the rule of law and to international law. It also requires the silencing of those who seek to reveal that the emperor has no clothes.

Sanctification of brute force

Because it is dangerous to openly admit that the situation in Judea and Samaria is permanent, the deception that was at the root of the settlement enterprise from the start must be perpetuated. Because it is impossible to inculcate justice, morality and humanist values within this paradigm, this set of values are being replaced with religious-Zionist particularism and the sanctification of abnormality and brute force.

These new values contravene the laws of war. Therefore, we must cry out that the whole world hates us and wage war on human rights organizations that demand compliance with the laws of war and that call for the investigation of suspected violations.

In the name of protecting Israel’s image in the world, silencing measures are adopted that harm the state’s democratic nature and do grave damage to its image. By taking such measures, and by refraining from enforcing the laws of war within the state, the government is paving the way for Israel’s leaders and military commanders to be tried by international courts with its very own hands. By perpetuating the existing situation, the state is depriving the military of its legal and moral legitimacy as a defensive force.

Under this new paradigm, the great victory of Meir Kahane, Baruch Goldstein, the “Jewish Underground” and Yigal Amir is celebrated. It also fuels today’s Jewish terrorism, the “price tag” thugs committing hate crimes against Muslims and Christians, and those who seek to use the Temple Mount to spark a religious war. All these people see themselves as soldiers in the service of a conflict that they believe cannot be resolved peacefully.

This dangerous paradigm is not merely a false depiction of reality: it could also become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Because those who are treated as a fundamental and eternal enemy are liable to become such an enemy – precisely for that reason. Removing peace from Israel’s vision for the future and from its strategic goals is eroding the foundations of Israeli democracy. Even worse, it is endangering the state’s very survival.

Mordechai Kremnitzer is Vice President of Research at the Israel Democracy Institute and Professor Emeritus at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem Faculty of Law.

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