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MJ Rosenberg

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Is Israel Officially Giving Up on Democracy?

Posted: 08/04/11 05:23 PM ET

It is hard to believe that anyone would give credence to reports of the supposed moderating of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's terms for negotiating an agreement with the Palestinians. But, incredibly, some people actually take him seriously, although, quite rightly, the Palestinians don't.

Here is the Jerusalem Post's description of the new Netanyahu "framework":

Israeli officials said this framework would be a package deal whereby Israel would agree to entering negotiations using the 1967 lines, with mutually agreed upon swaps, as the baseline of talks; and the Palestinians would agree that the final goal of negotiations would be two states, a Palestinian one and Jewish one.

The Post views this framework as a concession because the Palestinians would get "something they have long sought": they "would get the 1967 lines as the baseline" for negotiations.

What? The '67 lines have always been the baseline or starting point for negotiations, going back to United Nations Security Resolution 242 of November 1967. What else could they be?

Israel, obviously, wouldn't want negotiatiors to use the '48 lines as baseline. In fact, no Israeli government ever questioned that the '67 lines would be the baseline for negotiations until Netanyahu came to Washington in May and said that he rejected that commitment. (After the '67 war, Prime Minister Levi Eshkol famously said that Israel could now negotiate peace with the Arabs because it now had territory it could give up. And every prime minister since has agreed, until Netanyahu).

But now Netanyahu says that using the '67 lines is OK, and all the gullible types say, "Hooray, a concession!" No way. Netanyahu just moved the goal post back to where it was for 44 years. Big deal.

In any case, all he did was agree that he would negotiate with a map of the '67 lines in front of him. He didn't say that he would give up any territory during those negotiations. And he has consistently rejected a settlement freeze, let alone dismantling any settlements. In fact, he just authorized 900 new settler houses. Obviously, there can be no deal with the settlements and the bypass roads and the checkpoints chopping Palestine into an Israeli salad.

Netanyahu has no interest in negotiations and never did. All he wants is to prevent the Palestinians from taking their claim for statehood to the United Nations this fall. He seems to think that they are so brainless that they will accept an empty offer from him rather than try something new, something that -- whether it succeeds or not -- will fundamentally change the political terrain in a way that Netanyahu most certainly will not welcome.

More evidence of the utter phoniness of Netanyahu's new stance comes with the news that the Knesset is now considering a bill (supported by 40 legislators from Kadima, Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu) that would, according to Ha'aretz, "make democratic rule subservient to the state's definition as 'the national home for the Jewish people.'"

The lead sponsor of the bill says that it is intended to give the courts legislation that supports "the state as the Jewish nation state in ruling in situations in which the Jewish character of the state clashes with its democratic character."

The bill is likely to pass (20 of the 28 members of the "moderate" Kadima party have joined Likud in pushing it), which would mean that Israel will be making that long-predicted choice between being democratic or Jewish. (A choice that would be unnecessary if Israel gave up the '67 territories). It suggests that Israel is prepared to lay aside democracy, giving it the freedom to hold on to all the territories while continuing not to give democratic rights to the millions of disenfranchised Palestinians of the occupied territories.

This change, should it occur, would represent the most significant change in Israel's history. Israel would be embracing the idea of theocracy over democracy, rather than insisting that Israel was no different than the United States or any modern country where church and state are separated.

It is, of course, no coincidence that this change would follow Israel's recent demand that Palestinians recognize Israel "as a Jewish state." For decades, Israel only sought recognition as Israel. The insistence that Israel be recognized "as a Jewish state" is primarily an attempt to keep upping the demands on the Palestinians and part and parcel of the settler's dream of making Israel as Jewish as the Vatican is Catholic.

All this is horrible news for Israeli Arabs, as well as for secular Israelis who are sick and tired of living in a state where rabbis can and do insist that public law comport with Orthodox Judaism. Here in the United States, the First Amendment protects us, more or less, from politically avaricious clergy. But Israelis, like Iranians, live with that every day. And it looks like it will soon be getting worse, much worse.

In this context, Netanyahu's supposed softening is exposed as a total farce. The Palestinians' hope is to go to the United Nations, and they are. As for Israelis, they should keep taking to the streets.

 
 
 

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