Encountering Peace: Our celebration of democracy
We must continue to remind our MK and government that they work for us – we employ them on our behalf and they owe their loyalty to us, the electorate.
Knesset Photo: Marc Israel Sellem
Today is the holiest day in the calendar of democracy.
It is also the
holiest day in the calendar year for the future of Israel. On this day we stand
before ourselves, our values in hand, our world views and visions for our shared
future, and we add our voice to those of millions of our countrymen and women in
determining what will happen here over the next years.
For many it is not
an easy choice, and it should not be taken lightly. Too many of us make our
decision with “gut feelings” rather than deep contemplation and investigation.
The political propaganda designed to influence us with sound bites and slogans
doesn’t really offer us an understanding of the issues and the candidates’
positions on them.
Democracy is hard work. Democracy demands
responsibility from citizens. These elections, more than most in the past have
focused on the parties’ leaders, as if our vote only decided which of them would
lead the country.
The real work of government is conducted by a lot of
individuals. The real work of the Knesset takes place in committees and behind
the scenes where the job of law making is undertaken on a daily basis. The work
of the committees requires intelligence, probing scrutiny of issues, researching
solutions and together with legal advisers and experts writing laws that provide
the basic rules for how we conduct our lives in this country.
ONE OF the
main tasks of our parliamentary system is for the Knesset to oversee the work of
the executive branch, but other than using the “vote of no confidence” in the
government, the Knesset has no real oversight powers. The Knesset cannot
subpoena a government official to appear before a committee.
non-elected civil servant cannot be subpoenaed – they can be invited, they
cannot be ordered to appear.
The government is assembled from members of
the Knesset. In the past years about one third of its members have served as
ministers or deputy ministers, thereby significantly decreasing effective
committee work. Large governments do not reduce the amount of Knesset work; in
fact the work of the Knesset is increased with more ministries and
In some countries, ministers who are members of parliament
have to resign their seats in parliament to maintain the separation of
authorities and allow for real parliamentary oversight of the executive. But a
seat in the Knesset is more of a real, secure job than one in the government
alone and therefore our elected parliamentarians do not want to voluntarily give
up their job security.
ISRAEL IS a great democracy, but Israel’s
democracy has many flaws. For one, we have many political parties which are not
democratic. Yisrael Beytenu, headed by Avigdor Liberman, is not a democratic
party, nor is Yesh Atid, headed by Yair Lapid. The religious parties of Shas and
Degel Hatorah are also not democratic.
There is no electorate that
decided who the MKs from those parties will be. The party members on the list
who will serve in the Knesset owe their allegiance only to the party head who
The haredi parties have no women on their lists – how can
that be allowed in the only democracy in the Middle East? When we hear about the
lack of rights of women in our neighboring countries we ridicule them for their
abuses against half their population.
Our country is a very active
democracy, it seems. We are all involved in debating the issues. Israel has an
unusually high rate of news consumption. The issues compel us to be informed and
engaged. To a greater extent than in most other countries, the decisions made by
those we elect to represent us are matters of life and death.
so many issues of profound importance being contested in these elections. Peace,
security, economics, social gaps, inequality and discrimination against various
sectors, women’s rights, environment, equal service, the role of religion in the
state, land use and planning, and more – issues that touch on the very soul of
who we are as a country.
FOR ME the most central issue with the fastest
ticking clock is making peace with the Palestinians. For me this is the issue
that will define all of the others. This is the question that will determine if
Israel will be the democratic nation-state of the Jewish people or an apartheid
state. Peace with the Palestinians will determine if we have security and see an
end to the terrorism threat that we have faced for too long.
relations with our Palestinian neighbors will determine the quality of the
relations we have with all of the other states in the region. It will also
determine whether or not we will reach our economic potential.
continuation of the conflict continues to draw the bulk of our economic
resources into the machine of war and defense. The conflict limits foreign
investment and decreases the country’s enormous tourism potential as
We cannot resolve the social-economic issues if the conflict
continues. The continuation of the conflict blackens our name among the nations
of the world and will increasingly bring about our isolation in the
The next government will have to face these
issues, and will have to make decisions. This is the most important leadership
decision since the founding of the state. The consequences for us all are not
about the future of a few thousand houses in isolated communities deep in the
heart of Judea or Samaria. In any peace agreement, the overwhelming majority of
Jews in the West Bank will remain under Israeli sovereignty.
It is not
about dividing Jerusalem either, because Jewish Jerusalem will remain under
Israeli control and we will continue to have access and control over Jewish holy
places. Most of the issues that will be under negotiations have already been
determined. There are solutions to this conflict and our elected leaders must
find the courage and the vision to put them on the table.
are most definitely crucial to our future. We citizens do not have the privilege
to take casting our vote lightly. With our vote we participate in selecting our
representatives. After the elections, our civil responsibility is to ensure that
they do what is best for us. We must continue to remind our MK and government
that they work for us – we employ them on our behalf and they owe their loyalty
to us, the electorate.
We are the citizens, and we have spoken!
writer is the co-chairman of IPCRI, the Israel Palestine Center for Research and
Information, a columnist for The Jerusalem Post and the initiator and negotiator
of the secret back channel for the release of Gilad Schalit.