Deconstructing Some Pet Theories

Having taken the thoroughbred endangered democracy hobby horse for a canter, Schocken also trots out two venerable nags.

Haaretz publisher Amos Schocken's essay in last Friday's paper ("The necessary elimination of democracy," November 25 ) represents a contrived attempt to shoehorn current events to fit pet theories long endorsed by the Israeli left.

The left has consistently argued that if the settlement project over the Green Line was maintained, its baleful influence would eventually seep back within the Green Line and contaminate Israeli democracy. As the Israeli government per Schocken is merely the cat's paw of Gush Emunim, the settler movement, it has endorsed the current legislative campaign and its three major thrusts: preventing foreign meddling via politicized NGOs; restoring the Supreme Court to the relative judicial restraint that characterized it before the Likud took power in 1977; and redressing the balance between the press and the victims of press libel.

Having taken the thoroughbred endangered democracy hobby horse for a canter, Schocken also trots out two venerable nags: the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, which he says abruptly terminated a process that would have extricated Israel from its descent into dictatorship and apartheid; and, the fact that Israel paid for abandoning the "Rabin legacy" by sustaining aggravated isolation and helplessness when confronting the Iranian nuclear program.

Schocken's major thrust recalls the old joke about the Jew who voraciously consumed the anti-Semitic press. When pressed to explain his perverse delight, the Jew replied that he enjoyed discovering that Jews wielded such power. The settlement movement can similarly only dream of the power Amos Schocken attributes to it.

Had Schocken made this argument in 1980 rather than 2011, he would have still have been wrong but less wildly implausible. Then, the settlement movement was at its zenith, after Menachem Begin's ascent to power in 1977 and his festive promise of many Elon Morehs (the flagship settlement nucleus of the long-deceased Gush Emunim that Schocken resurrects from the dead in his opinion piece ). In their period of peak power, both the Begin government and Gush Emunim acquiesced to the Supreme Court, which then enjoyed a better reputation for impartiality, in its ruling on the 1979 Elon Moreh case, in which it mandated the evacuation of a settlement built on private land without convincing security justification.

Ever since, the settlement movement has been in retreat, rather than steadily accumulating power, as Schocken argues. Jewish communities are now confined to the "pale of settlement" carved out in the 1980s, and building has effectively been frozen by the Netanyahu government to the extent that an announcement of construction in Efrat (deep in the consensus settlement blocs ) or even Jerusalem arouses attention. Conversely, Arab construction continues without any restrictions, with the new Palestinian city of Rawabi providing convincing testimony.

If apartheid roads do exist in Judea and Samaria, it is Jewish travel they effectively bar, sometimes onerously extending a commute to work or school. The major arteries that serve Jews are open to Palestinian traffic. We experienced in 2005 a disengagement/expulsion that razed the Jewish communities of Gaza and northern Samaria. A further installment was in the offing under Ehud Olmert, who announced in the midst of the Lebanon campaign the following year that the war's success would further accelerate the expulsions of Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria. It was only the failure of the Second Lebanon War that discredited Olmert sufficiently to thwart the plan.

Paradoxically, it was the same Olmert government, whose policy on settlements was largely congruent with Amos Schocken's, that sought to reclaim spheres of authority usurped by an activist court. The point man for this policy was then-Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann, a law professor whose political home was Meretz. Friedmann could in no way be depicted as an ally or tool of the settlers. He simply felt the need to restore the balance between the various branches of government.

It is incredible that anyone can still claim that Rabin's assassination thwarted Oslo, rather than providing it with a new lease on life. Rabin, who bribed two Knesset members to cross the aisle and pass Oslo B (a ploy which, since it advanced a cause favored by the left, could not be considered a threat to democracy ), was sinking in the polls like a stone following the suicide-bombing offensive. He would have lost badly in an election, or he may have gone the route of Generals Moshe Ya'alon and Uzi Dayan, who originally supported Oslo but ultimately became critics of it.

Rabin's assassination ushered in a period of intellectual terror sponsored by the same people who currently bewail the purported threat to democracy. It provided a spurious "Rabin legacy" to enshrine and radicalize Oslo that was as manipulative and fraudulent as Stalin's recruitment campaign following the death of Lenin.

Equally fantastic is Schocken's argument that by sacrificing the settlements, Israel would have secured greater international support against Iran. Actually, Olmert peddled this grand bargain at Annapolis and received in return the U.S. National Intelligence Assessment downplaying the Iranian nuclear program. Europe was not about to abandon its critical and lucrative dialogue with Iran before it had become an obvious farce in the previous decade; the Obama administration - irrespective of settlements - would still have wasted years on engaging Iran, while China and Russia have remained wedded to a policy prioritizing energy security, trade and twisting Washington's tail over curbing the centrifuges.

The ideological gulf between my viewpoint and Amos Schocken's is wide, but what makes it more tragic is that it no longer centers on different conclusions one draws from the facts but on the facts themselves.

Political scientist Amiel Ungar writes a monthly column in Haaretz English Edition.