Civil Fights: Sacrificing democracy on the altar of peace

Isn't it curious that widespread support among Israelis for the 'peace process' isn't deemed essential?

israeli crowd 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
israeli crowd 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Reactions to the Winograd report once again laid bare a chronic ill of both Israeli democracy and the "peace process": the pervasive belief among members of Israel's self-described "peace camp" that what the public thinks about talks with the Palestinians is irrelevant; enlightened leaders must pursue an agreement regardless of the public's views - and in service of this lofty goal, any perversion of democracy is acceptable. Prior to the report's publication, leftist politicians and columnists argued almost monolithically that however culpable it found Ehud Olmert for the Second Lebanon War's failures, new elections must be avoided, because the polls predict victory for Binyamin Netanyahu, a peace process skeptic. As Meretz chairman Yossi Beilin explained, the Right "wants to stop talks with Fatah, and believes, according to the polls, that this is the chance of a lifetime. That is exactly why I have no interest in supporting such a move." Beilin advocated replacing Olmert from within the cabinet, but most of his fellow leftists dispensed even with that nicety. Haaretz's star columnist, Yoel Marcus, for instance, repeatedly argued that Olmert must stay, since his ouster might lead to elections, and the Left cannot risk the election of a premier opposed to final-status talks. Following the report's publication, Winograd Commission member Yehezkel Dror echoed this reasoning, telling Ma'ariv that "a peace process, if successful, will save so many lives that it is a weighty consideration," and therefore, "we must think about the consequences. What do you prefer, a government with Olmert and [Ehud] Barak, or new elections that will put Netanyahu in power?" Even if, as Dror claims, this represented guidance to voters on how to decide rather than his personal opinion, the bottom line is the same: Far from deeming public support essential for such fateful negotiations, Dror, like Marcus and Beilin, views the voters' seeming preference for an opponent of the talks as justification for thwarting their choice by retaining a failed premier. THIS HAS been the Left's attitude toward the "peace process" from its inception. When Yitzhak Rabin lacked a Knesset majority for the Oslo-2 accord, for instance, he solved the problem by buying the votes of two legislators from a far-Right party that vehemently opposed Oslo. Specifically, he promised them a ministry and deputy ministry, with all the attendant financial perks. This was blatantly illegal, as the Supreme Court subsequently ruled. But Rabin and his successor, Shimon Peres, solved that problem by amending the law, retroactively. And rather than condemning this perversion of democracy, the entire Left lauded it, deeming any means kosher to advance the peace process. Ariel Sharon's disengagement also demonstrated contempt for democracy. Despite having been elected on an explicit pledge not to quit Gaza unilaterally, he declined to seek the public's consent to his U-turn via either new elections or a referendum. He did call a referendum in his own party, but ignored the results when he lost 60-40. This is hardly standard democratic practice: When, for instance, Charles de Gaulle wanted to break a campaign promise to remain in Algeria, he did call a referendum (and won resoundingly). Yet Sharon's refusal to seek a new public mandate won plaudits from the Left. This trampling of democratic norms for the sake of the peace process, with the Left's almost unanimous support, has been devastating to Israel's democracy. It is no accident that the worst blow Israeli democracy ever suffered, Rabin's assassination, occurred a mere month after the Oslo-2 vote: When democratic processes are subverted by open vote-buying, with enthusiastic support from politicians and the media, extremists can easily convince themselves that the lack of a democratic alternative justifies resorting to violence. IT IS also no accident that right-wing violence reached new heights following the disengagement - for instance, during the Amona evacuation six months later. For two years, rightists did everything good democrats are supposed to do. They worked to elect an anti-withdrawal candidate in 2003, and won. They went door-to-door to convince Likud members to defeat disengagement in the party referendum, and won again. But their victories proved worthless: Sharon simply ignored them, to widespread applause from politicians and the media. The obvious conclusion was that democratic efforts are pointless, so violence is the only alternative. Nor is it an accident that voter turnout reached an all-time low in the first election following the disengagement. If a politician can renounce his entire platform after winning, refuse to seek a new mandate, and be applauded for it, what is the point of voting? But if the peace uber alles attitude has been devastating to democracy, it has, ironically, been equally detrimental to prospects for peace. Few would deny that ongoing Palestinian terror hinders these prospects. And one reason this terror persists is that none of the relevant parties deem widespread Israeli support for the peace process essential. If the Palestinian Authority thought future withdrawals depended on such support, it might feel constrained to win over Israelis by abandoning terror. If the international community thought withdrawals depended on such support, it might feel constrained to pressure the PA into fighting terror. But why should either go to the trouble if Israeli governments are willing instead to subvert the democratic process, making public opinion irrelevant? The problem is that Israel is still a democracy, however flawed - and therefore, peace will ultimately not be possible without public support. As successive withdrawals bring Palestinian terror closer to major population centers, the extent and intensity of the opposition to withdrawal will grow. And eventually, it will become too great to circumvent through anti-democratic tactics. Buying two Knesset votes is easy. Buying 20 is much harder. Thus by collaborating in the subversion of democracy for the sake of peace, the Left has undermined both of its proclaimed flagship ideals. Not only has it increased the likelihood of anti-democratic violence by eroding the public's faith in democratic processes, it has also eroded public support for the peace process by reducing the PA's incentive to combat terror. Unfortunately, it is not the Left alone that suffers for this blindness. All of Israel is paying the price.