A democracy or a ‘banana republic’?

It is unfortunate that there are always those in a democracy who would curtail the public debate for the sake of political convenience.

July 15, 2013 22:52
4 minute read.
US Secretary of State John Kerry and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, June 27, 2013.

Kerry and Netanyahu meeting 370. (photo credit: Matty Stern/US Embassy Tel Aviv)

It is unfortunate that there are always those in a democracy who would curtail the public debate for the sake of political convenience.

Last week, Isi Leibler published a column in The Jerusalem Post titled, “En route to becoming a banana republic,” in which he calls upon the Israeli government and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to squash the plurality of opinions voiced by ministers and members of Knesset on the possible establishment of a Palestinian state. Instead, Leibler suggests that all members of the government should be obligated to “speak with one clear voice,” expressing only the authorized government view.

Mr. Leibler views the plurality of voices on this issue, including the opinions of those like myself, Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon, Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett and others who oppose the creation of a Palestinian state, as evidence that Israel is rapidly disintegrating into a “banana republic.”

Alas, in making the accusation, Mr. Leibler forgot to look up the meaning of the term “banana republic.” The term was coined in the late 19th century to describe the grim political reality in Central America, where many countries (especially Honduras) were plagued by the rule of corrupt dictators who, supported by foreign governments, maintained order through the violent military suppression of democratic processes.

Ironically, in these “banana republics” government officials generally did express the government’s views in “one clear voice,” as Mr. Leibler advocates. This “voice” was not the authentic expression of a democratically elected government, but the opinion of a single leader, a military junta or a foreign power.

The political system in Israel, whether it is to the liking of Mr. Leibler or not, operates as a parliamentary democracy. It is not a dictatorship, nor a presidential system of government (like the United States). In a parliamentary democracy, the government is created through a coalition agreement in which divergent parties, with differing ideologies, agree to form a partnership.

Obviously, the different philosophies of the various parties are not erased the moment they enter the government, but rather continue to guide the ministers and MKs as they attempt to best serve the public.

This is not true only of Israel, but of many parliamentary democracies, especially in Europe where it is common to find politicians with radically different views, who even oppose the head of government with regard to key issues on the national agenda, as partners in the same coalition government. One example among many: In Italy, members of Silvio Berlusconi’s center-right party currently share a coalition with members of the radical left.

It is therefore natural that the current Israeli government includes officials and parties with substantially different views regarding the correct means of addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the possible creation of a Palestinian state. These differing views were presented to the general Israeli public during the 2013 elections, and the Israeli public chose to send to the Knesset and the government representatives who reflect its worldview, including opposition to the creation of a Palestinian state.

It is important to note that the proposal to create a Palestinian state has never been brought to a vote in any government forum or ratified by any elected majority, and obviously does not appear in the founding principles of the government.

This absolves government officials of any obligation to conform to or identify with the vision of a “two-state solution.”

This political reality is especially true of the Likud Party itself, where the Likud central committee, in a landslide vote, chose to oppose the creation of a Palestinian state in 2002. Ironically, the person who led the campaign to uncompromisingly reject a possible Palestinian state in the Likud central committee was none other than the current prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, who was then serving as the internal party opposition to then-prime minister and Likud Party head Ariel Sharon.

It is therefore natural and even predictable that representatives of the Likud Party in the government and Knesset, as well as ordinary activists and party members, have remained true to the original Likud opposition to the creation of a Palestinian state. In addition, according to all the most recent polls, many, if not most, of the Likud’s voters support this stance.

The plurality of voices which Mr. Leibler finds so offensive is in fact the most tangible expression of Israeli democracy and the will of the Israeli citizen. It is not only our right, but our responsibility as government officials, to continue to uphold the historic ideological stance of the Likud Party. We respect the current stance of Prime Minister Netanyahu, which differs from ours, and his decision to endorse the two-state solution, the international community must be aware of the Israeli public’s opposition to the creation of a Palestinian state, even if such a stance does not match international expectations and pressures.

Only through this plurality and transparency will we be able to ensure that the State of Israel never becomes a “banana republic.”' The author is deputy foreign minister.

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