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Democracy for Every Israeli and Palestinian. It’s Not Hard

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
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File photo: A Palestinian woman reads a copy of the Kuran as a Jewish Orthodox man walks past her in Jerusalem's Old City on September 10, 2015.
File photo: A Palestinian woman reads a copy of the Kuran as a Jewish Orthodox man walks past her in Jerusalem's Old City on September 10, 2015. Credit: AFP PHOTO / AHMAD GHARABLI
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

Israel is stuck in neutral. Everything is at a standstill. So it’s time to fantasize, to dream about a general election, but a different kind, a dream about democracy. It won’t happen soon, but one day it will. Israel will have to become a democracy because it doesn’t have the right to exist otherwise.

Without real elections, it’s not a democracy. What it imagines as democratic is an electoral trick. A fundamental rule in democracies is the universal right to vote. One person, one vote. Equality. There’s no democracy without that. There’s no such thing as democracy in installments for one ethnic group or one geographic area.

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If the United States decided to deprive the southern states of the right to vote, it would cease being democratic. If Germany did the same against the country’s Jews, it would again be declared a threat to humanity.

Elections in Israel aren’t general elections and so they’re not democratic. The country can continue to masquerade as the only democracy in the Middle East. A new law letting the Knesset override Supreme Court decisions could represent the final declaration of the end of Israeli democracy. The end of the masquerade.

If adjoining towns are distinguished by their right to vote in elections that determine the fate of both, that’s not democracy. If the West Bank settlement of Itamar goes to the polls, but not the West Bank Palestinian city of Nablus, that’s not democracy. If the Jews of the West Bank town of Hebron vote in elections but the Palestinian residents of Hebron don’t, that’s apartheid. It’s that simple and that’s how things are.

As long as Israel uses the cover that the situation in the West Bank is temporary, it’s tolerable. But the ruse is up. No significant political camp in Israel will ever intend to end the occupation, whether on the Zionist right, left or center. Nobody.

As a result, Israel is defining itself as undemocratic. And when the world understands that, it will come at a price. And when Israel understands it, the country will ask itself if it’s willing to pay that price.

Only one path remains: democracy for everyone, for everyone living under Israeli rule. It’s astounding that this even needs to be stated. And even more astounding is that it’s considered subversive. The redress will come in a general election. Just imagine.

Imagine an election for a constituent assembly for the second time in the country’s history. Imagine starting over, that the September 17 election were declared Israel’s last imitation election. It would be followed by a real election with the participation of everyone living in the country, whose fates are determined by government ministries and the army in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

An election commission representing both peoples would set the election rules and time frame. Fatah and Kahol Lavan, Hamas and Likud, Islamic Jihad and United Torah Judaism, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine and Habayit Hayehudi. Any slate could run as long as it disarmed its military wing. And all the country’s residents would be eligible to vote and run for office.

The constituent assembly would draft a constitution guaranteeing equality and providing a basis for forming the government. The best people would win. Fanatics would be isolated and weakened. The first law passed by the new country would be an immigration law that would guarantee equality to Jews and Palestinians.

And before raising the prospect of a bloodbath, it should be said that resistance to this would be much more intense in the Jewish camp than among the Palestinians. But Israelis who have been frightened and brainwashed will be astounded to witness how the Palestinians conduct themselves when they’re finally treated as equals and are free for the first time in their history.

The country’s president would be Palestinian and the prime minister Jewish, or vice versa. The defense minister would be from the Deheisheh refugee camp and the foreign minister from West Jerusalem, or vice versa. West Bank settlements would remain in place and the country’s borders would be recognized around the world. Not a single country would oppose the just state arising from the bloody past, and it would be awash in financial assistance, from Washington to Riyadh.

That dream from one clear night will come true at some point because there is no genuine alternative. And a suggested date to begin? January 25, 2020, exactly 71 years after the first election to a constituent assembly. Oops, that comes out on a Saturday. That’s a problem.

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