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.

emptyknesset370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
(photo credit: 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.
Even a 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 ministers.
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 selected them.
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.
There are 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.
Our 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.
The 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 well.
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 international community.
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.
These elections 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!
The 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.