And There Was No Referendum In Israel...
© 2006/5766 Ariel Natan Pasko
No matter what Olmert says, no matter what they tell you, no matter how much they lie, know, the elections were not a referendum. For the life of me, I can't understand why so-called rightists, Benjamin Netanyahu, Nadia Matar ("Women in Green") and others, before the recent election, described it as a referendum on the withdrawal-expulsion issue.
Referenda without clear policy guidelines, without specifics (who exactly is going to get expelled, from where, and how much or how little compensation are they going to get?), simply are not carried out like this.
When Ariel Sharon began promoting his Gaza Expulsion Plan, euphemistically called "Disengagement," opponents called for a referendum. Ministers in his government (including Olmert) spoke out against holding one. The then Minister of National Infrastructure, Yosef Paritzky claimed it contravened the democratic principles of the country. The Justice Minister at the time, Yosef Lapid, expressed his opposition to the referendum idea, "Such a move is not part of our democratic process." Both politicians had a point; modern Israel has never held a referendum.
A little history about the call for referenda in Israel...
Former Prime Minister Menachem Begin - then a Knesset Member - in the early 1950's opposed the deal that then Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion worked out with West Germany, to accept reparations after the Holocaust. Begin suggested a national referendum to allow the people to decide whether to accept them or not, but Ben-Gurion refused. In February 1958, Menachem Begin again suggested using referenda to decide on various issues in the young Israeli democracy. Ben-Gurion's ruling party, Mapai, responded, calling the proposal "Bonapartist, fascist and totalitarian."
Certainly, referenda are neither fascist nor totalitarian.
Referenda are used in many democratic states around the world to allow the citizens to directly decide important issues. For example, referenda have been used by European countries to decide on whether to join the European Union, or once in, to adopt the European Monetary System and replace their national currency with the Euro. Many states in the US use referenda for a whole host of issues, and the constitutional process of adopting a new state constitution itself can include a referendum from voters.
Is there a more important issue today, pressing the people of Israel, than the issue of territorial integrity or withdrawal from parts of it's historic homeland, the biblically promised, Land of Israel?
But, Olmert's "Referendum" is more reminiscent of the "electoral process" of former totalitarian regimes (vote yes or no) such as Saddam Hussein's Iraq or the Former Soviet Union under Brezhnev.
Olmert's claim that the election was a referendum on his Unilateral Expulsion Plan, now being called "Convergence," bolstered by Netanyahu's and Matar's politically immature pre-election statements, just goes to show how many Israelis live in La La Land.
For starters, let's take these statements at face value (don't misunderstand, I categorically deny that any particular generation of Jews has the right to give away parts of the G-D's Promised Land).
Olmert's "Referendum" was a complete flop. He lost it. Olmert's "Referendum" was roundly defeated by 77% of the voting public.
Kadima (his party) won only 28 out of 120 seats, or 23% of the vote. All the other parties that favor territorial compromise (Likud, Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu, Shas and UTJ, Meretz, Labor, the Arab parties) do so only within a negotiated settlement with the Palestinian Authority. They claim to be against a unilateralist policy, like Ehud "following in Sharon's footsteps" Olmert is promoting. I want to add that not only do many in the above mentioned parties not believe that its possible to achieve such a "negotiated final solution" with the Hamas-Proto-Nazi PA, but many within Olmert's own Kadima Party don't either. Even the "true believer" Shimon Peres has said as much.
But truthfully, Israel has in fact held a referendum already on this issue.
In the Torah, after describing the giving of the 10 Commandments at Mt. Sinai, comes the portion of Mishpatim-Laws (Exodus 21:1-24:18). In it, Moses conveys a long list of further rules and regulations (G-D's commandments) for the Children of Israel to live by, including torts and damages, criminal law, marital law and ritual law, the proscription against idolatry and the proper observance of Jewish holidays. Then G-D promises military victory in the upcoming war, when He brings the Jewish People into the land He promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, giving it to Israel.
"Do not make a treaty with these nations..." (Exodus 23:32)
"Do not allow them to reside in your land..." (Exodus 23:33)
It continues, "Moses wrote down all G-D's words" (Exodus 24:4), then "He took the Book of the Covenant and read it aloud to the people. They replied, 'Everything G-D declared, - Naaseh V'Nishmah - we will do and obey'" (Exodus 24:7).
There you have it, the description of the covenantal process between G-D and the Jewish People, with the Jews adopting the Torah as their constitution, by national referendum.
So, it's not true that Israel has "never" held a referendum. But when the Jews voted to accept the Torah-Constitution for their nation, and implemented the "promise to inherit the land" in the times of Joshua, they set down rules for the nation for "all time".
Everyone in the world knows that the Land of Israel belongs to the Jewish People. Christianity and Islam are built on Judaism and both recognize this fact. The nations of the world, through the League of Nations and later the United Nations gave its stamp of approval also.
For those who say "Israeli settlements" are a violation of "International Law" or the Geneva Convention, they simply don't know what they're talking about. The League of Nations' "Palestine Mandate," recognized the right of Jews to "close settlement on the land," and no later UN resolution has ever abrogated those rights. Even the 1947 Partition Plan into Arab and Jewish states, assumed that Jews would continue to live in the Arab state, as Arabs would in the Jewish state.
By Divine Right, historical right, and internationally recognized law; Jews have a right to settle, build homes and towns, and live in all parts of their homeland, Israel, including the areas liberated in 1967.
Even the Israeli Supreme Court (ten out of eleven Justices), ruled before the Sharon government's Gaza Expulsion Plan was carried out, that to expropriate the property (with or without compensation) of Israeli citizens (i.e. Jews) and to expel them from their homes, violated their "human rights of property, freedom of occupation and proper respect for the evacuees," yet in their convoluted logic, they upheld the legality of the expulsion as acceptable in order to achieve political and security goals.
The use of referenda to generally resolve issues in Israel is perfectly democratic, it builds social solidarity and wide consensus, contrary to the views of the "people's representatives". But on the issue of territorial compromise and expulsion of Jews from their homes (such as happened in Gaza/Northern Samaria and now what they want to do with more of Judea/Samaria - the West Bank), something that gets to the heart of Israel's national existence, even democracy has it's limits.
How many Americans would honor the outcome of a referendum in the US, to return the "Occupied Territories" to Native American Indians, along with the concomitant expulsion of millions of black, white, Asian, and Hispanic "settlers"?
There is no legitimacy to such a referendum, the nation of Israel voted on it long ago, at Mt. Sinai.
Ariel Natan Pasko
is an independent analyst & consultant. He has a
Master's Degree in International Relations & Policy Analysis.
His articles appear regularly on numerous news/views and think-tank
websites, in newspapers, and can be read at: www.geocities.com/ariel_natan_pasko