Now that a coalition agreement between Likud and Kahol Lavan has been signed, it’s worth examining the significance of that agreement, in particular two core issues. For Kahol Lavan, the fig leaf that ostensibly justifies its entry into a Netanyahu government and proves it is sticking to its principles is the preservation of “democracy and the rule of law.” To this end, the party even agreed “to compromise” and consent to moves to advance “annexation” as of July 1.
This is basically all one needs to know about the thinking here, across the board, regarding “democracy.” After all, there is no connection whatsoever between “democracy and the rule of law” and the continued Israeli rule over millions of Palestinians who are without rights. What Israel is doing beyond the Green Line is undemocratic by its very nature. The Palestinians have no political rights, they do not take part in any democratic process, and their entire lives are controlled by Israeli systems in which they have no representation. No Palestinian subject ever took part in the election, appointment or promotion of High Court justices, Members of Knesset, army officers or government ministers – all those Israelis who make decisions daily about what occurs in the territories.
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That being the case, all the lofty talk about democracy is meaningless, nor is there any point talking about the rule of law. Not just in the superficial sense of the absence of a demand for a reckoning from the members of the security forces who kill Palestinians, or the lack of law enforcement against settlers who harass Palestinians, but in a deeper sense too: How can the rule of law have any meaning when it is determined, interpreted and applied in accordance with the interests of those who control and oppress their subjects with the intention of perpetuating their rule by means of this same “law”?
As Humpty Dumpty explained to Alice: “The question is – which is to be master, that’s all.” And therefore the meaning of a word is “just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.” In the territories, the meaning of the word “law” is just what Israel chooses it to mean. Thus it is “legal” to shoot unarmed protesters, to raze buildings, to steal lands, and to deprive people of water, electricity or access to lifesaving health services.
But Kahol Lavan joined the coalition to safeguard democracy and the rule of law, so how does that work? No problem there: They’re thinking only about Netanyahu’s various corruption cases and about “public corruption,” not about the thousands that we’ve shot, or about the moral corruption at the root of the Israeli regime. The Kahol Lavan leaders don’t even bother to hide this, and are even eager to clarify their intention in this whole celebration of the democracy that they are defending. It’s an incredible democracy whose rule over millions of subjects doesn’t undermine it in the slightest, to the point that there is no need even to mention those subjects.
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But Kahol Lavan isn’t content with passive silence regarding the subjects. In another section of the coalition agreement, they are partners in a proactive move regarding their future: one variation or another – to be agreed upon with the head honcho in Washington, of “annexation,” with, as usual, the Palestinians not even to be asked about it. The practical implications of this act of annexation are not clear at this stage – since Israel, in any case, acts in the territories as within its own borders; it has in effect already annexed them, and its intention to perpetuate its rule over the Palestinians has long been clear.
But its contribution is great in both contexts: First, by exposing the fact that nothing separates Kahol Lavan from Likud when it comes to the cynical use of democracy as a hollow label, including dealing with the Palestinians not as human beings but as political merchandise in coalition negotiations. And second, when it comes to reducing the gap between what Israel does, with America’s patronage, and what these two are saying. Apartheid isn’t waiting for July 1 – it’s already been here for quite a while – but with an official Israeli declaration it will be harder to look away from the reflection in the mirror.
Yes, in terms of exposing the reality in all its ugliness, the coalition agreement is making a real contribution: Perpetual rule over millions of subjects without rights? Check; “Democracy”? Check; “Rule of law”? Check. “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.” But Humpty Dumpty reminds her: “The question is which is to be master – that’s all.”
The writer is the director of B’tselem.