The events surrounding last week’s Knesset vote on the illegal Ulpana outpost
seemed like a vindication of Israeli democracy for many of its citizens. The
Supreme Court ruling to evacuate 30 families living on Palestinian land was
upheld, as was the notion that Israel’s democracy and the rule of law can exist
side by side with its expanding presence in the West Bank.
While Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s forceful opposition to
the law did perhaps indicate that he was willing to take on the extremists
within the settler movement when the rule of law was at stake, his reasons for
doing so gave away his true agenda.
“The solution we found strengthens
settlements and preserves the rule of law,” said Netanyahu, directly after the
And in case anyone doubted the truth of the first half of his
statement, he promptly announced the construction of 300 new settlement units in
Beit El, before almost trebling that number to 851.
The “solution” has
indeed strengthened settlements, as well as the extreme political bloc that
promotes them. It has also fundamentally damaged the rule of law and Israel’s
hope of a truly democratic future.
Netanyahu’s thinking is echoed in the
general public’s attitude. A poll commissioned by OneVoice and published last
week found the general public’s attitude echoed Netanyahu’s thinking. A majority
of 64 percent of Israelis opposes illegal outposts in the West Bank (although
there is no such thing as a legal settlement according to 100% of the
international community). However, only 41% of Israelis think they present a
risk to the future viability of the two-state solution.
There is a
profound cognitive dissonance at work here. The twostate solution is the only
way to secure Israel’s democracy for future generations.
greatest threat to that solution is continued settlement expansion on land
earmarked for a Palestinian state in any future agreement.
democracy would indeed be greatly tarnished by the government running roughshod
over a Supreme Court ruling, it would be crushed forever by the closing of the
window of opportunity for two states.
Many Israeli politicians continue
repeating the mantra “Jewish democracy” to describe the type of state many
Israelis want, but at the same time, they acquiesce to facts on the ground that
would require an impossible choice between those two values.
settlement freeze, millions of Palestinians residing in cities and villages
where settlement construction encroaches heavily on their lives would either
have to become citizens of Israel (much like the Palestinians of ’48) or else
remain stateless forever. The first option results in an unworkable binational
state that is no longer Jewish. The latter means an immoral and certainly
undemocratic regime of apartheid.
The pressures Netanyahu endures from
the increasingly powerful lobby of the extreme right have left him trying to
muddle through by following the court order on illegal outposts, but at the same
time not confronting the real challenge of Israeli democracy, presented by his
own policy of settlement expansion.
Meanwhile, a growing number
Palestinians have lost hope regarding the two-state solution, and demand instead
equal rights as citizens of one state west of the Jordan.
of Israelis must exert even greater pressure on Netanyahu to realize the
two-state solution. As suggested by Professor Alan Dershowitz’s latest article
in The Wall Street Journal, Israelis need to join in a sustained campaign across
the country that calls for a settlement freeze. This would not only serve to
restart negotiations with the Palestinians, it would also ensure that when talks
resume, there is enough belief among them in the possibility of achieving a
The alternative makes the debate of last week on illegal
outposts a marginal issue, facing as it does an obvious need for Palestinian
civil rights, either as citizens of a yet-to-be-established Palestinian state or
as citizens of a binational Israel. This is the real choice for Israelis:
settlements or democracy. Israel cannot have both.
Tal Harris is
executive director of OneVoice Israel. The OneVoice movement leads parallel
grassroots efforts in Israel and in Palestine toward the solution of two states
for two peoples.