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?

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How Israel’s Electoral System Brings the Country’s Fringes Into Its Center

Like Haviv Rettig Gur in “How and Why Israelis Vote,” I, too, think the advantages of Israel’s parliamentary system outweigh its disadvantages, and for essentially the same reason: because it keeps a great many people in the political system who would otherwise remain outside it.

Critics of the system’s plethora of small parties—as Gur notes, no fewer than 43 parties have been vying for Knesset seats in this year’s election—maintain that it should be streamlined and redesigned so that only big parties would be able to enter the Knesset. In that case, the critics argue, people who currently vote for small parties would simply switch their votes to large ones.

No doubt, some voters would do so—but many others would not. There are at least three groups among whom turnout would plummet if niche parties became by definition unelectable: Arabs, Ḥaredim (including some ḥaredi Zionists), and the protest voters who, in every election, propel a new “fad” party into the Knesset. (In 2015, as Gur writes, the fad party was Kulanu. This year, it’s been Moshe Feiglin’s pro-marijuana, libertarian, right-wing Zehut party, which Gur doesn’t discuss although polls have consistently showed it gaining five to seven seats.)

Together, these three groups constitute roughly a third of the country, and all three are to some extent alienated from the mainstream. If they were no longer even participating in elections, that alienation would grow.

Why does this matter? In answering that question, I’ll focus mainly on Ḥaredim and Arabs, the most significant and also the most stable of the three groups (protest voters being by nature amorphous and changeable).

It matters primarily because people who cease to see politics as a means of furthering their goals are more likely to resort to violence. Indeed, it’s no accident that most political violence in Israel has issued from quarters outside the electoral system.

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