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Civil Fights: When violence replaces democracy
Evelyn Gordon
We must restore the younger generation's faith in democracy.
There has been a spate of attacks by settlers on both soldiers and Palestinians recently. This is not random violence, but calculated policy: The goal, activists say, is to "exact a price" whenever part of a settlement or outpost is dismantled, in the hope of persuading the authorities that dismantling settlements is not worth the cost. While only a minority of settlers supports this tactic, the number is growing, and defense officials believe the violence will only escalate. This is something no society can tolerate, and better law enforcement is clearly part of the necessary response. Yet law enforcement alone cannot solve the underlying problem - which is that growing numbers of settlers have justifiably concluded that democratic action is pointless, leaving violence as the only rational option. IF THAT sounds outrageous, consider the following: In 1993, the Knesset approved the Oslo Accords, even though Yitzhak Rabin won election promising no negotiations with the PLO. But the ensuing surge in terror disillusioned many Oslo supporters, thus rightists saw a real chance of defeating Oslo 2 in 1995. So they did exactly what good democrats are supposed to do: They lobbied Shas and Labor MKs, and succeeded in garnering enough votes for victory - until Rabin, thumbing his nose at the rules, openly bought two MKs elected on a far-right slate, thereby securing a 61-59 majority. And since the offered bribe (a ministry and deputy ministry, with all attendant financial benefits) was illegal at the time, he then used his newly purchased majority to amend the law so he could pay up. Worse, this perversion of democracy enjoyed monolithic support from journalists, leftist MKs, academics and other self-proclaimed champions of the rule of law. The lesson was obvious: Playing by the democratic rules is pointless, because the other side has no qualms about scrapping them whenever they prove inconvenient. It is no accident that the worst incident of political violence in Israel's history, Rabin's assassination, occurred a mere month later. If democratic alternatives are blocked, violence becomes the only recourse. And someone will inevitably take it. FAST FORWARD to the 2003 election, when Labor championed a unilateral withdrawal from Gaza and the Likud's Ariel Sharon campaigned against this idea. Again, rightists did what good democrats are supposed to do: They threw themselves into electing Sharon. And they succeeded: The Likud won by a landslide. Yet 11 months later, Sharon U-turned and adopted Labor's platform. Nevertheless, he offered a democratic escape route: an internal party referendum. So rightists again did what good democrats are supposed to do: They canvassed door-to-door among Likud members. And they won again: Though polls predicted an easy victory for Sharon, his plan lost by a 60-40 margin. But Sharon ignored his party's verdict, despite having pledged to honor it. He also refused to submit his plan to any broader democratic test - new elections or a national referendum. And of course, these decisions were cheered by the left's self-proclaimed champions of democracy. Thus the right won two democratic victories, the 2003 election and the Likud referendum, only to see both prove worthless. Once again, the lesson was clear: Playing by the democratic rules is pointless. After Sharon junked the referendum results, rightists protested by blocking roads around the country. That, while illegal, is a time-honored Israeli tradition. The Histadrut, for instance, blocked roads nationwide for months to protest the emergency economic program in 2003; disabled activists demanding increased funding once paralyzed the entire capital by blocking major roads. Yet neither union activists nor the disabled were ever arrested. Anti-disengagement protesters, however, were arrested in droves, and routinely jailed for lengthy periods. Here, too, the lesson was clear: Rightists will be jailed for using tactics that other protesters can use with impunity. In short, democracy is not a level field, so playing on it is pointless. LEFTISTS FREQUENTLY charge that even if all the democratic rules were honored, settlers would not accept an adverse outcome. That may be true for a tiny minority, but certainly not for the vast majority - as was proven during Ehud Barak's premiership. Barak won election in 1999 by promising a unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon and final-status negotiations with the Palestinians. He duly quit Lebanon in May 2000; two months later, he offered sweeping concessions to the Palestinians at Camp David. Clearly, he had a democratic mandate for both withdrawal and negotiations. Moreover, the Knesset for once did its democratic job properly. By forcing him to call new elections, it enabled the public to approve or reject the specific concessions he made at Camp David, and later at Washington and Taba. And, miracle of miracles, there was virtually no violence, though rightists opposed both withdrawal and negotiations. Faced with a true democratic mandate and a true democratic ratification process, settlers honored the rules of the democratic game. Unfortunately, Barak's term was the exception. And while Rabin's term could have been a one-time aberration, Sharon's term proved that it was not. Thus growing numbers of settlers, especially the young, no longer believe in the democratic process - and with cause. What is the point of winning elections or referenda if the results will simply be ignored? What is the point of lobbying Knesset members if any successes can be overturned by vote-buying? It is probably too late to change the minds of those fomenting the current violence. But if we do not want their ranks to keep swelling, we must restore the younger generation's faith in democracy. Legislation - such as a bill now heading for final reading that mandates a referendum, elections or a two-thirds Knesset majority before ceding sovereign territory - is vital to this effort. But changing the country's political culture is equally vital. And that will only happen if all the journalists, academics, jurists and MKs who so loudly proclaim their devotion to democracy stop whitewashing its perversion in the name of "peace" and instead demand that the rules be respected, even if that results in setbacks for their side. Otherwise, we are liable to witness an ever-expanding circle of violence that no amount of law enforcement will be able to suppress.
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