Analysis from Israel

With the Palestinian Authority having formally launched its bid for UN recognition as a state yesterday, perhaps other countries ought to start thinking about what kind of state would come into being if they vote “yes.” Here’s a hint: It will be neither democratic nor peaceful.

With regard to democracy, consider just a few of the events of the last three months: The PA once again proved itself incapable of holding even local elections, canceling a scheduled vote for the fourth time in two years; on the national level, PA President Mahmoud Abbas is now in the 81st month of a 48-month term. It banned journalists from reporting the human rights abuses documented by an official PA body, the Independent Commission for Human Rights, which found that both the PA and Hamas (which govern the West Bank and Gaza, respectively) were guilty of torture and arbitrary detentions. It arrested a Palestinian professor who publicly criticized his university for failure to comply with a court order. It pulled a popular satirical television show from its state-owned TV channel because the show lampooned the PA’s security forces and civil service. (Don’t satirical TV shows usually lampoon their own governments?) Its official media blacklisted Palestinian union leaders who accused the PA of refusing to clamp down on corruption. It’s not exactly a shining picture of freedom of expression, regular elections and other pillars of the democratic order, is it?

As for the PA’s peacefulness, consider a few more events of the last three months: A Palestinian cabinet minister accused Israel of being the world’s “major harvesting and trading center” for organs, and specifically of harvesting organs from “the bodies of dead Palestinian martyrs”; the PA government neither denounced nor dissociated itself from this classic blood libel. A leading member of Abbas’s “moderate” Fatah party, one of Abbas’s close associates, declared that Fatah never has and never will recognize Israel.

The state-run television channel repeatedly glorified suicide bombers who murdered Israeli civilians (here and  here, for instance). A PA community center run by a senior member of Abbas’s party taught schoolchildren that pre-1967 Israel is stolen Palestinian land, and their mission is to reclaim it someday; Abbas himself  declared pre-1967 Israel to be occupied Palestinian territory just this week.

State-run television vowed the Palestinians would bulldoze the Western Wall plaza – where thousands of Jews from all over the world pray daily – if and when they gain control of East Jerusalem. It’s not exactly a shining picture of readiness to live alongside Israel in peace and security, is it?

One wouldn’t expect the UN’s many undemocratic states to care about Palestinian democracy, or its many anti-Israel members to care about whether “Palestine” lives in peace with Israel. But numerous countries in Europe, South America, Africa and Asia are proud democracies that genuinely seek Middle East peace. Isn’t it about time for those countries to think about what kind of state “Palestine” would be before they raise their hands to vote it into existence?

Subscribe to Evelyn’s Mailing List

Why equality doesn’t belong in the nation-state law

Ever since Israel’s nation-state law was enacted in July, one constant refrain has sounded: The law should have included a provision guaranteeing equality to all Israelis. It’s not only the law’s opponents who say this; so do many of its supporters, liberals and conservatives alike. But they are wrong.

Adding a provision about equality to the nation-state law sounds innocuous because civic and political equality is already implicitly guaranteed through the 1992 Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty. Basic Laws are Israel’s closest approximation to constitutional legislation, and the 1992 law, which protects the “dignity of any person as such,” has been consistently interpreted by the courts as enshrining equality on the grounds that discrimination violates a person’s dignity. So what harm could it do to offer an explicit guarantee in the Basic Law: Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People?

The answer is that doing so would elevate Israel’s democratic character above its Jewish one. And that would negate the entire purpose of the nation-state law, which was to restore Israel’s Jewish character to parity with its democratic one—not superiority, but merely parity.

To understand why this is so, it’s first necessary to understand why adding an equality provision would violate basic constitutional logic. This argument was cogently made from the liberal side of the political spectrum by Haim Ramon, a former senior Labor Party Knesset member and former justice minister. Writing in Haaretz’s Hebrew edition last month, Ramon argued that if anyone thinks equality isn’t sufficiently protected by the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty, they should work to amend that law rather than the nation-state law, as the former is where any provision on equality belongs.

This isn’t mere semantic quibbling. A constitution, being a country’s supreme instrument of governance, isn’t supposed to be a jumble of random provisions thrown together with no more thought than a monkey sitting at a keyboard might provide; it’s supposed to be a carefully crafted document. That’s why constitutions typically group all provisions relating to a given topic into a single article or chapter. Each article has equal status; none is more or less important than the others. And together, they create a comprehensive document that addresses all the basic questions of governance.

Read more
Archives