Israel/Palestine: The Politics of a Two-State Solution

  • Israel/Palestine and the Politics of a Two-State Solution
  • When Peace Fails: Lessons from Belfast for the Middle East

Sunday, April 7, 2013

The Cost of Compromising in Democracies: Israel and the United States

Today I went to see the new Israeli documentary film, The Gatekeepers, about the reminisces of six former heads of the Israeli General Security Service, better known by its acronym as Shabak or Shin Bet (Sherut haBitakhon haKlali). The interviewer asked the six individuals a series of questions--some the same and some different for each individual--and then received the answers. The talking heads were interspersed with news footage, some of cars being tracked and destroyed by Israeli aircraft or buildings being hit by Israeli bombs and footage of the aftermath of bomb explosions. The film is in Hebrew with English subtitles and for those with a good grasp of Hebrew easy to follow without the subtitles
One segment of the film dealt with the settler terrorist underground that existed in Israeli settlements in the early 1980s before the network was rolled up by the Shabak in 1984 as it prepared to plant bombs on Arab buses in an effort to make a mass killing (250) of Arabs. The religious settlement leaders said they were sure that the Dome of the Rock would not remain and that the Temple Mount would remain in Jewish hands. The film also showed the incitement campaign conducted by the Israeli Right against Rabin before his assassination. 
Watching this it suddenly occurred to me that this was a result of the compromises that were made both with the religious sector in general when Israel was created as a Jewish state and then with the religious Zionists following the Six Day War of 1967. The compromise was not an easy one to make: it was a choice between compromising on the democratic features of the state or excluding religious Jews from the state. The United States made a similar compromise in 1776 when independence was declared. Thomas Jefferson's paragraph on slavery was left out of the Declaration of Independence and the slave states of the South were assured that slavery would remain legal in an independent America. And even beyond this when the Constitution was written it was decreed that 60 percent of the slave population of the country would be counted as free for the purposes of assigning representation even though the slaves lacked all civil rights including the franchise. This allowed the South to dominate Washington for the first half of the nineteenth century even though the free population of the North was much larger than the free population of the South. This situation was only ended by a terrible war--the most costly in American history, one more costly than the other wars combined (excluding the Civil War) up until World War II. 
Slavery was not ended by the British Anti-Slavery Society or by any foreign pressure but by a civil war that included tens of thousands of former slaves serving in uniform. The anti-slavery political parties, a series of three increasingly larger and more powerful parties, after two decades of existence only brought the country  to the point where the South could be provoked into seceding. This then led to the Civil War and the ending of slavery by presidential decree, force of arms and finally by Constitutional amendment. 

I went to see The Gatekeepers both because of the favorable reviews I had read of it and because J Street, a pro-Israel, pro-peace, pro-democracy lobbying group urged its members to see it. J Street maybe commands the support of a majority of American Jews, although its active membership is much smaller, or about two percent of the American electorate. In the 1840s the Liberty Party could count on between two and three percent of the vote in Northern states in state and local elections and in the 1844 presidential election. J Street and its predecessor, Brit Tzedek vaShalom, has been in existence for a decade now. Time-wise this would compare to the Free Soil Party in 1851. The Free Soil Party bounced between ten percent of the popular presidential vote in 1848 and five percent in 1852 with a much lower support level from late 1850 to mid-1852. In Israel the share of the vote to the anti-occupation parties has been steadily shrinking for a decade. This means that the likelihood of either Israel saving itself from the occupation and its accompanying settlement effort and the U.S. saving it is quite remote at present.

Slavery was finally ended in America because the slavocracy or slave power over reached and tried to ignore the results of a presidential election and break up the Union. In biblical language this was known as God hardening the heart of whatever enemy of Israel over reached. Unless the Israeli Right and especially the settlers over reach in a similar fashion they are quite safe. As some one who does not believe in a God of history that interacts with mankind, I do not expect a divine hardening of the heart--but I never the less see it going on today in Israel.

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