The Road to Bi-national Serfdom

David Merhav has been working during the years 2008-2012 as journalist and Op-Ed columnist in Makor Rishon daily, a conservative newspaper published in Jerusalem. In 2011-2012, he served as the Public Relations Director of the Jabotinsky Institute in Israel. Currently, he is editing a collection of articles and documents on the Maximalist wing in Revisionist Movement (to be published in mid-2013).

I. Political commentary is much more complicated in Israel than in other countries. Unlike Israel, in all Western countries, elections are held three times in a decade, with a fixed number of political parties, or at least with several political formations that remains stable and retains membership committed to its principles and history. These parties have traditional institutes along internal system, regulating the norms of primaries and national elections. External events can influence the national politics in those countries, but in regard to what happens within politics itself, its internal mechanism can hardly produce dramatic headlines in the press.

Let us be more explicit: When it comes to U.S. Republicans, it is cut-and-clear that once Mr. Romney got the nomination, no other Republican rival would even dare to think splitting the party or launch an independent campaign. The Democrats did not dare to question President Obama's leadership, and no Democrat called for primaries in the Party in order to challenge the President. This political reality is stable also in France, Britain and Germany. In Israel, the entire apparatus is different. Political stability is unfamiliar to the Israeli generation born in the 1970s and the 1980s, as well as the immigrants who made Aliyah to Israel following the collapse of the USSR.

II. Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Lieberman present the idea of governability as central to their election campaign. The yearning for the comeback of an era of two big parties – the Labor and the Likud – is common not only in the Israeli conservative Right but also in ranks of the rejuvenating Israeli Labor. The elections of 1984 marked the end of four-decades wherein one Zionist party could have governed without the need of relying upon small, national-religious or non-Zionist, parties. Likud's Shamir and Labor's Peres created a National Unity Government in order to overcome the governability problem, but this partnership ended in 1990.

Peres, convinced in the need to solve the Palestinian Question, frustrated from the hardliner Shamir who thwarted his London Agreement with the late King Hussein, attempted to build a small coalition led by his Labor party, with the support of the Haredi factions. He failed, Shamir obtained the ultra-orthodox support and since then, all Prime Ministers were reliant upon small factions, allowing them to survive as long as their policies do not contradict their interests. However, in contrary to the widespread idea in the country, Israel's problem is not the election system. Even not the vote threshold.

Israel faces an essential problem which prevents it from functioning as effective democracy in the sense of transforming the will of the many expressed in the ballots into the deeds of the leaders. This problem does not allow Israel to hold elections where two big parties struggle to get the majority in the Knesset. Most of the debate is personal. Instead of dealing with the big problem to be discussed below, Israelis discuss issues like set of social reforms, this or that arrangement of financial policy, but not an all-encompassing agenda based upon well-articulated theory.

As a society, Israel hasn't decided yet what it really is. Is Israel more Jewish, or more democratic? The long battle to create a balance between the State's Jewish nature and its democratic essence, has failed, mainly due to the tight connection between State and religion, as well as the ethnic split between Jews and Arabs. Israel has been lurching from the liberal and democratic ethos of Herzl's Zionism, supported by statesmen Z. Jabotinsky, where citizenship prevails as a constitutive and normative principle which regulates the relation between different groups in the Israeli heterogenic collective.

Because of this condition, Israel refuses to decide what shall be the fate of the Palestinians living within Israel itself, and in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank). Israel lacks any general perception of its identity. The ongoing clashes between ultra-Orthodox and the secular majority is taking place and not resolved yet. In fact, it is a State which pretends to be the Middle East's Athens, but it moves forward to become a local isolated Sparta.

III. It is reasonable why this condition prevents Israel from having a Constitution. Years of debates did not produce any significant draft for Constitution that can enjoys a majority in the Parliament. Today, there is no party that suggests a perspective which contains the Israeli society as a whole and offers liberal, centrist agenda whose implementation would transform Israel into more unified society: pluralist but not multi-cultural, tolerant but not relativist, capitalist and compassionate but not socialist, Jewish and democratic but not theocratic.

A country that does not know where is it going, cannot know what is to be done in all major problems, first and foremost the Palestinian Question. It is a paradox that the Israeli wide convention claiming the Palestinians does not accept its legitimacy (a convention which is not totally unfounded), did not forge a solid society that can emerge out of the conflict and take care of some major problems. Now, the Israeli society is fragile more than ever. The Palestinians are here to stay, and the Israelis have nothing to do about this.

With no decision nor perspective regarding the future of the country, Israel is heading toward elections where in the end, the political system would be more disintegrated, torn into small political factions fighting for dominance and aiming at decision in critical controversies, while no party got any genuine majority amongst the citizens.
In case Mr. Netanyahu would win the elections, it is probable that his party, HaLikud Beitenu – a mixture of neocons, liberals, authoritarians, champions of racial separation and ardent nationalists – will forge a ruling coalition.

Nonetheless, it will do so by utilizing the current coalition system and thus be dependent upon the interests of smaller factions. And should the unbelievable miracle would happen, and the Left-Center will be able to generate a block withholding Mr. Netanyahu from getting a second term, it will be ruled by the tiny Communist Party's faction and the Arab parties. Israel won’t come out stronger of these elections; its might be weaker than ever.

IV. The question is not, therefore, who will be Israel's next leader, but what will he do with the power with which he is assumed. Led by Mr. Netanyahu, Israel would find out sooner or later that what it regards as its crucial problem, viz. Iran's drive toward nuclear weapon, is just a constituent – important but not the most important one – within the complex of problems needed to be handled. With or without nuclear Iran, Israel is on the verge of deep, historic decision. A decision it refuses to take: the core of the Israeli society.

The Palestinian Question is, of course, central to this decision, but it is much more complicated than just supporting Two State solution, or siding with the fraudulent "conflict management" solution carried forward by the Israeli neocon milieu. Israel will have the address the risky challenge of bi-nationality. With no clear decision between a liberal-democratic State with Jewish majority, and one bi-national State with diminishing Jewish hegemony, Israel will have to choose whether it is a state of separation, where citizenship is separated from residency, or a democratic entity whose Jewish mission is abandoned.

We don't have to be too vague about the term needed to describe this state of affairs: Apartheid State. And, in the same time, we must say right away that a bold majority in Israel want neither bi-national nor Apartheid state. A survy conducted recently by Ha'aretz daily has shown that Israelis do not wish annexation of the Territories. Zionism is alive and well. They wish a democratic and Jewish State. However, no party proposes a way out of this cul-de-sac.
A country with clear set of values and deep understanding of its inherent essence can evaluate the situation and determine what the Israeli proposal to end the conflict is. Or, at least, to pave some way toward the end of the conflict so the nature of Israel as Jewish State with democratic regime will be maintained.

In the meantime, Mr. Netanyahu prefers to keep a long cease-fire with the Islamist Gazan regime, led by Hamas and supported by the Persian Ayatollahs, as rockets are fired at the South. This alliance, stemming from Mr. Netanyahu's preferences, consists of terrible consequences. Nevertheless, while no other path is upheld by central political platform, the road to bi-national serfdom is paved.

Israel, lacking regulating constitution and normative system, is a canton-divided State whose existence is permissible due to temporary arrangements between different groups. De facto, it comprises of autonomous groups represented in the Knesset and constitutes a coalition of matching interests, a coalition that falls apart each time the interests do not coincide. Following this analysis, Israel has nothing to offer, neither to the Arabs nor to its own population. In a state of no dramatic decision, the Jewish State has nowhere to proceed. The reality will enforce itself on Israel. It would wallow in bi-nationalism. It was Karl Marx who once argued that one can try ignoring history, but history won't ignore him.

V. The late Jewish philosopher Prof. Yeshayahu Leibowitz demanded Israel to withdraw from Judea and Samaria. In a lecture he delivered in the Arab town of Umm El-Fahm, he said in a moment of deep sincerity: "The Arabs will never be our friends". Now, Israel is "stuck" with these non-friendly friends. Israel cannot leave the West Bank. The settlers cannot be evacuated without bitter civil war. The Arabs too cannot be expelled, even if Mr. Lieberman will become Prime Minister and suggest the idea of renouncing the Israeli Umm el-Fahm in return to Israeli presence in Hebron.

With no way out, Israel won't survive the coming years as democratic state. The voices raised by Right and Left politicians and activists, advocating bi-national state (including people like the Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin and the former Minister of Defense, Moshe Arens), mark the shift where democracy is defeated in favor of fatal nationalist fantasies. This shift must be avoided.

"So, what are you suggesting?" the Israeli reader will ask, and rightly so. However, the problem is not what I am suggesting, but what the Israelis want. A way forward lies within a wide agreement on what is desired – not about what is offered. In order to proceed toward a better future, Israel needs a change in its consciousness: If we, Israelis, aspire to live a true liberal, democratic and Jewish society, we must consolidate a political force well rooted in the Israeli masses, a platform whose vision will encompass all aspects of Israel's political, social and civil life. Mr. Netanyahu, whose power is generated from the current order, cannot bring about the change so desired. His leadership, in case he'll win the coming elections, would mark the end of an era that began in 1967's Six Days War and end in 2013.

Israel, the one that knows what its essence is, will be able to separate itself – politically if not geographically – from the Palestinians. An Israel whose face turn forward can discuss borders and get international backing once its partner for talks becomes insubordinate. However, an Israel who looks backwards will sink into the bi-national swamp. Like any other corpse, it will finally be decomposed. What is to be done? It is the Israelis' duty to decide. I shall end this essay the way Marx ended his Critique of the Gotha Program (1875): Dixi et salvavi animam meam. I have spoken and saved my soul.

DAVID MERHAV, Tel Aviv. November 2012.

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