Israel: A multicultural Jewish democracy?

Why is the Trump Administration’s “Deal of the Century” for stabilizing relations between Israel and West Bank Palestinians being assailed from all sides before the details are even released?

By DANIEL J. ARBESS
April 24, 2019 22:45
3 minute read.
President Donald Trump passes his adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner during a Hanukkah Reception a

President Donald Trump passes his adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner during a Hanukkah Reception at the White House. (photo credit: KEVIN LAMARQUE/REUTERS)

Why is the Trump Administration’s “Deal of the Century” for stabilizing relations between Israel and West Bank Palestinians being assailed from all sides before the details are even released? Mainly because the administration is taking what it calls “an unconventional approach founded on speaking the truth” – Land-for-peace has failed. Palestinian leaders aren’t even pretending to be interested – after a quarter century of using the “peace” process as cover, they persist in their denial of the Jewish nation’s right to exist.

Under the deal, we might see consolidation of the West Bank under Israeli civil law, with financial, logistical and possibly constitutional initiatives which actually improve everyone’s lives there, while moving Israel toward its full potential as both the Jewish homeland and a multi-cultural democracy.

Judea and Samaria, the area west of the Jordan River, is the biblical homeland of the Jewish people. Some may not realize that these territories had been purged of Jews after Jordan annexed the area in 1948. They were recovered by Israel in the 1967 war waged by its Arab neighbors to wipe Israel off the map.

In their yearning for peace and global acceptance over the past 50 years, Israeli leaders have unintentionally confused observers, first by allowing Judea and Samaria to be designated “disputed,” “occupied” and “apartheid-occupied” territories – then by negotiating the formation of a separate Palestinian state on the very same land, which would leave Israel with indefensible borders. By now, they undoubtedly understand that this self-contradiction has undermined the nation’s credibility and legitimacy. The time has come for Israel to effectively declare victory in the 1967 war and develop Judea and Samaria, while reinforcing self-governance of Palestinian communities there.

Indications are that US President Donald Trump’s “deal of the century” will move past discussions of territories and borders to specific practical initiatives that will improve the freedom, respect, security and opportunity of West Bank Palestinians as well as all of Israel’s other inhabitants. This is likely to include increased self-governance of West Bank Palestinian communities; substantial investment in West Bank infrastructure; and easing of restrictions on the ability of Palestinians to travel from their communities to Israel and work freely there.

Israeli Arabs already enjoy the “complete equality of social and political rights” and “freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture,” accorded all “inhabitants... irrespective of religion, race or sex,” under Israel’s Declaration of Independence of May 15, 1948. Where in the Muslim world do citizens enjoy such robust civil rights?

Yet, it’s fair – and consistent with Zionist values – to ask what civil status and stake might West Bank Palestinians have in Israel’s democratic process? They are citizens of Jordan, whose siblings east of the Jordan River, the majority of whom are already Palestinian. West Bank Palestinians’ citizenship benefits, annulled by the Hashemite Kingdom in 1988, should be restored, ideally with some legitimate voice in Jordan’s governance – now exclusively controlled by the Hashemite family imported from Saudi Arabia in 1921. Meanwhile, Palestinians who comply with Israeli civil laws in Judea and Samaria will likely be offered permanent residency status in Israel.

That may not be enough, though. There should, in due course, be a path to Israeli citizenship for Israeli-law-abiding West Bank Palestinians, under a constitutional arrangement that extends participatory democratic rights to citizens of all religions, yet without threatening the unique Jewish character of the State of Israel. This calls for the formalization of Israel’s interim constitutional regime of Basic Laws into a functional constitution, with an appropriate separation of powers among the legislative, executive and judicial branches of government.

One potential approach would divide governing responsibilities between the legislative and executive branches. Israel’s presidency is currently a ceremonial post, reflecting the influence of the British model on Israel’s Basic Law constitutional arrangement.

Under a fuller separation of powers, the legislative branch might govern civil affairs and be elected by all citizens – Muslim, Christian, Druze and Jewish – while a newly enhanced executive branch (office of the presidency) might be responsible for questions central to the Jewish character of the state, such as the right of return, immigration, defense and security. It could be elected by an electoral college or similar mechanism of representative democracy weighted toward Jewish interests. The president and vice president of the United States is elected by an analogous mechanism of indirect democracy: the Electoral College.

A quarter century of Oslo is enough. More dignified, successful lives for the people is the right goal; how many states is secondary, and always should have been.

The writer is CEO of Xerion Investments, permanent member of the Council on Foreign Relations and co-founder of No Labels.


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