Friday, April 21, 2006
Next: you may have read a thing or two about the Israeli elections. I was very depressed by them initially because they illustrated yet again the fundamental un-seriousness of the Israeli electorate. The pensioners' party gets seven seats? For all that I recognize the economic pressures that have come down on recepients of state assistance, including the elderly, this really is taking interest-group politics in a proportional-rep system to a considerable extreme.
But on further reflection, I think the most important showing in the election was the performance registered by Yisrael Beiteinu, Avigdor Lieberman's party. What started as a right-wing Russian party alternative to the more moderate Yisrael B'Aliyah (Sharansky's party) has evolved into a full-fledged right-wing party. And their most important contribution to Israel's current debate is also a very dangerous, albeit inevitable one. To white: Yisrael Beiteinu favors trading the triangle region of the Galil, which is inside the Green Line but overwhlemingly Arab, for the large settlement blocs in Judea and Samaria. As such, the proposal is a violation of international law; you can't just strip people of their citizenship. And it is a momentous Rubicon to cross to even suggest that pre-'67 Israel is up for negotiation. But the proposal is not going to go away, and I strongly suspect some version of the proposal will eventually come to pass. Israel's Arab minority, especially the Arabs of the triangle region, are increasingly alienated and increasingly involved in political Islam. There is a movement afoot among Israel's Arabs to press for recognition as a national minority and a high degree of communal autonomy. It is probably in Israel's interest to encourage a starker choice: either join whatever entity emerges on the Palestinian side of the separation fence, or more fully integrate into Israeli society by, among other things, serving in the IDF. One can imagine, in the abstract, some kind of referendum process being used to formalize this choice.
But any such reform would be predicated on a more serious effort to de-sectorize Israeli society, and that in turn depends upon profound change in the political system. Israel badly needs a new constitution - not because it needs formal guarantees of individual rights (that's not what a constitution is for in the first place) but because it needs a more functional governmental structure. I'm currently reading a book about the Algerian war, and it keeps striking me as I read it that Israel really would benefit from a constitution more like the on de Gaul designed for France's Fifth Republic: a strong, directly-elected Presidency balanced by a Parliament with its own Prime Minister. Israel faces a host of existential questions that require a real mandate to resolve, and Israel's political system is structured to make such a mandate impossible to achieve. A directly-elected President that did not serve at the sufferance of Parliament (unlike the situation in the mid-1990s when the Prime Minister was directly elected, but Parliament could still bring down the government with a no-confidence vote) could receive such a mandate and act on it. If I ran the zoo, I would go further; Israel should have stronger regional governors as well, should take the education system out of the hands of the political parties, should formalize relations with bodies like the Jewish Agency and otherwise strengthen the rule of law, etc. But reform of the constitution is the beginning, the precondition to everything else. Purportedly Sharon wanted to tackle this question after the 2006 election. I have no idea what he planned, nor whether Olmert has ideas in this vein. If so, I hope he has the guts to take them forward, in spite of his (profound) political limitations.