How will Israel speak?
So it looks like the EU's constitution might have run up against an iceberg. According to a report from Paris in The Weekly Standard, French President Jacques Chirac may have overplayed his EU card by allowing the French people to decide by referendum whether or not they wish to ratify the French-authored, 448-article EU constitution. Opinion polls taken in mid-April indicate that 56 percent of French voters now oppose the constitution which they are set to vote on in late May.
According to the report, French opposition to the constitution is based on a combination of economic populism and general distaste for the entire project – one which diminishes their national sovereignty and puts them under the control of people they dislike and distrust.
If this negative trend is not reversed, it seems that the French voters will reject the plans of the nonelected European bureaucratic elite that have been more or less pushing through the program of European unification for the past few decades without public oversight. That is, the European elite, in progressing to their post-nationalist (and anti-American) dream regime of multinational elites writing treaties and regulations and hatching plots together in Brussels, may actually suffer the consequences of cutting themselves off from the people in whose name they purport to be working.
The most striking aspect of this turn of events is that it reminds us what it means to live in a democratically governed society. It means that when elections are free and fair and direct, the leaders of any particular government are supposed to reflect the collective will of their people and that the policies of a democratically elected government will, at the end of the day, be a reflection of the self-interests of the community of voters that make up its society. If, as the West has asserted for the past 400 or so years, the citizens of a country are considered rational actors, then the result of elections should be the emergence and development of peaceful, non-revolutionary, wealth-creating societies.
In countries where elections are corrupted – either by non-direct electoral processes or by regimes that organize them in a manner that prevent the people from exercising an authentic free choice – the connection between the governed and their leaders becomes attenuated and the policies of the government will not be informed necessarily by the interest of the people.
This is the case, no doubt, in Saudi Arabia. Last Saturday, in the third round of municipal elections in that absolute monarchy, Islamist candidates were swept into office. The fact that women in Saudi Arabia are denied the vote, like the fact that the country is governed as much by the religious thought police as by the secret police, no doubt had something to do with the results.
In the Palestinian Authority the situation is even more acute. Palestinians are governed by a series of interlocking yet quasi-independent tyrannies. On the one hand, they have the PA itself with its secret police and goon squads, better known as the Palestinian security forces, that determine whether they will receive jobs, various licenses or permits to work in Israel. As well, the PA determines the content of school and university curricula, mosque sermons, newspapers, and radio and television broadcasts.
On the other hand, Palestinians are governed by the terrorist organizations that rule their streets from Rafah to Jenin. Some, like Hamas, bring them into their fold through Saudi-funded welfare services. Others, like Fatah, bring them in by intimidating them or paying them off with PA, Iranian or Hizbullah-financed salaries.
Given this situation, the PA-ruled areas can be compared to a jungle and the strongest force in any particular area is the most popular one.
So, when PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas wants to pander to the people, he panders to the
strongmen, who are also terrorists. This presents both Israel and the US with an unworkable situation. Under pressure from both to reform his security services, he turns to strongman Rashid Abu Shabak – strongman Muhammad Dahlan's replacement as head of the Preventive Security Service (the PA version of the KGB) – to head the PSS in both Gaza and Judea and Samaria.
Shabak is a powerful man. But he is also a mass murderer and master terrorist. He commanded the bombing of the school bus in Kfar Darom in November 2000 that killed two adults and left three children legless. He is known in Gaza as both the father of the Palestinian mortars – over 5,000 of which have rained down on Israeli communities in the area since their introduction in 2001 – and as the "collaborator hunter." According to The Jerusalem Post's Khaled Abu Toameh, over the past several years, Shabak has "hunted down" more than 100 Palestinians who have assisted Israel in its counter-terror operations.
Yet in the jungle of Palestinian society, it is not enough to coddle terrorists. What is most important is to be a terrorist. And so, Hamas is poised to become a political force to be reckoned with after the planned July 17 elections for the Palestinian legislature. Hamas leaders have already made clear that they are first and foremost a terrorist organization and will not abandon their arms as a result of their political involvement. As Mushir al-Masri told the press this week, "Our fingers will remain on the trigger." Masri maintained that Hamas's participation in the elections, "does not mean it is on the way to becoming a political party."
In the meantime, the Palestinians, election or no election, are preparing for the next round of war, which they plan to open in September, immediately after Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan to expel all Israeli citizens from their homes in Gaza and northern Samaria is completed.
This week there were several reports that Palestinians have already smuggled anti-aircraft and anti-tank guns into Judea and Samaria. The Islamic Jihad is reorganizing in the Jenin area which is set for Israeli withdrawal. At the same time, the IDF is sending special forces to man the 180-km border with Egypt which now, for the first time since the signing of the peace treaty 25 years ago, is considered by the IDF to constitute a strategic threat to Israel.
As for Israel, after buying off a sufficient number of Likud backbenchers to prevent a national referendum on his planned withdrawal and expulsion plan, Sharon managed to scare a lot of friends of Israel in Washington earlier in the month with his talk of the likelihood of civil war breaking out. Americans take the specter of civil war very seriously.
But what they cannot possibly understand from where they sit is that it isn't the Israelis slated for expulsion from their homes that wish for civil war, but Sharon's newfound supporters on the far Left. Voicing this bloodlust most recently was Haaretz columnist and Susan Sontag-admiring pseudo-intellectual Avirama Golan. Golan explained her opposition to the proposal to build new communities in Nitzanim for the set-for-expulsion Israelis thus: "Transferring the evacuees from Gush Katif to a brand new neighborhood built especially for them along the beautiful strip of Nitzanim transmits a problematic implicit message. This is a message that says [once again] to the Jewish settlers in the territories: You are a chosen group You will not be like all the other Israelis... If this is what the government does in the evacuation of Gush Katif, the main sting of the evacuation of the settlements will be neutralized It will be as though nothing has been done."
So, for Golan, if the thousands of Israelis whom the government plans to forcibly expel from their homes and farms are not treated poorly, then the whole operation won't be meaningful. She wants her political antagonists who insist on believing in God and Jewish rights to suffer. And if they don't, then Sharon will have failed her.
What Golan represents is the Israeli version of the European elites. She and her buddies represent a tiny minority of Israelis, but like their European counterparts, they exert a great deal of influence through their control of the media, the legal system and the universities. As Amnon Abromovich, Channel 2's chief commentator, said of the prime minister at a conference on Sharon's withdrawal plan, "In my view, we must protect Sharon not only from political threats but also from legal threats."
When his remarks were subject to scrutiny this week, he relented and said that Sharon should only be protected by the media until September – after the withdrawal goes through.
Eighty-thousand Israelis braved the rocket-and-mortar onslaught on the Israeli communities in Gaza on Wednesday to come to Gush Katif and demonstrate against Sharon's planned withdrawal. The prime minister's supporters claim that a majority of Israelis support the plan. But the truth is probably different. A majority of Israelis is probably indifferent today to the plan, but indifference cannot be confused with support.
Given this, and given that from day to day it becomes increasingly apparent just how ill-advised Sharon's plan is from both a strategic and an operational perspective, it is clear why Sharon and his elitist supporters and protectors are so deathly afraid of a referendum. But the issue that Israelis, friends of Israel and supporters of Israeli democracy should be raising now is as follows: The French have recourse to a referendum to voice their views on a project that was undertaken largely without their consent and with which they have become increasingly disenchanted. The Israeli pubic is forced by events to face the dangers that Sharon's plan poses to the country and its citizens.
In the absence of a referendum – and assuming that the government will not fall before the withdrawal because the Labor, Yahad (Meretz) and Arab parties will protect Sharon to ensure that elections are out of the question – what is the vehicle through which Israelis will be able to voice their opposition to a plan adopted without their consent with which they are becoming increasingly disenchanted?
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.