The concept of “autonomy” originated with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It’s already hard to recall that we used to talk here about Palestinian autonomy, self-rule, a “territorial compromise” as opposed to a “functional compromise.” All these served as a cover for one objective: There would be no independent Palestinian state.
It’s true that no Palestinian state has been established to date, but the autonomy plan is alive and kicking, and is even being implemented in full. Not among the Palestinians, but among us. There is no single autonomy here, there is a cluster of autonomies that are connected by fragile threads, and compose the so-called “State of Israel.” After the disaster on Lag Ba’omer on Mount Meron the concept has become an expression that defines the territorial area in which ultra-Orthodox sects reign on the mountain, and which the government is not allowed to enter. A kind of independent enclave that lacks only a flag and an anthem.
But as mentioned, the Meron site is not alone, it is part of a system of autonomous enclaves, which is gradually beginning to resemble the Palestinian system of enclaves that Israel created on the West Bank to prevent the establishment of a single Palestinian state. They can be seen in all their glory in the Haredi neighborhoods in Jerusalem, in the south of the country in those areas where Bedouin gangs are in control, in Arab villages where the government has surrendered its control and transferred it to armed subcontractors, and, of course, in the settlements, which have long been an independent state that has given rise to sub-enclaves that even the settlers don’t dare enter.
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The illusion that the government really governs and implements the laws of the country everywhere in its sovereign territory, and in the areas that are fully under its control, leads us to believe that all those autonomies are nothing more than groups of scofflaws, as though they were a kiosk owner who opened his business on the beach without a license.
The truth is far more disturbing. The State of Israel is gradually coming to resemble Lebanon, Syria or Iraq, where organizations, religions, ethnic minorities and gangs have become the real rulers of the country. The physical and legal territory controlled by the government covers only selected portions of it.
It was said of Syrian President Bashar Assad that he succeeded in restoring over 80 percent of the country to his rule. All the rest is ruled by rebel militias, by the Kurds, and by local gangs. It’s doubtful whether in Israel the government could claim that it rules the same percentage of its territory. Each of the autonomies has a system of self rule, which withdraws a fortune from the state coffers but is permitted to do with it whatever it desires, and also to decree its own rules and regulations.
Israel is not even a federation, although representatives of most of the autonomies serve in the Knesset, as in Iraq or the United States. In a federation, the federal government decides on foreign policy, the state budget and the country’s constitution. In Israel the basic laws are subject to the whims of the rulers of the autonomies.
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Foreign policy, with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at its core, is dependent on the consent of the settlers; the state budget requires the stamp of approval of admorim, or Hasidic rabbinical leaders; and armed militias, both Jewish and Arab, determine the boundaries of the personal security of the country’s citizens.
Israeli Arabs cannot depend on the federal police force to protect them from the gangs that operate in their cities. Bedouin in the Negev who want to study and work know that there’s nobody to turn to when thugs control the highways and shoot indiscriminately. Anxious Palestinian farmers stay close to Jewish volunteers to protect them from gangs of settlers. Because the army of the state of autonomies ignores them at best, and usually joins the settlers.
Israel, like the West Bank, is divided into Areas A, B and C: areas under full government control; areas in which the government (maybe) controls only security, but not the Civil Administration; and areas in which the government is absent. An Israeli citizen who looks for housing for themself cannot make do with checking whether it suits his family, but must also find out to which autonomy it belongs. What suits Palestine and Syria suits Israel too.