MJ Rosenberg
MJ Rosenberg
MJ Rosenberg is a Senior Foreign Policy Fellow at Media Matters Action Network.
Is Israel officially giving up on democracy?
New laws aim to make democracy subservient to the orthodox religious beliefs of a minority of citizens.
Last Modified: 06 Aug 2011 16:17
Netanyahu's 'concessions' are merely a return to the base of negotiations, established for some 44 years [GALLO/GETTY]

It is hard to believe that anyone would give credence to reports of the supposed moderating of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's terms for negotiating an agreement with the Palestinians. But, incredibly, some people actually take him seriously. Quite rightly, however, 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 1967 lines have always been the 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 negotiators to use the 1948 lines as the baseline. In fact, no Israeli government ever questioned that the 1967 lines would be the baseline for negotiations until Netanyahu came to Washington in May and said that he rejected that commitment. After the 1967 war, Prime Minister Levi Eshkol famously said that Israel was in a position to "negotiate peace with the Arabs" because it now had territory it could give up. And every prime minister since has agreed. Except Netanyahu.

But Netanyahu now says that using the 1967 lines is okay, and all the gullible types say: "Hooray, a concession!" No way. Netanyahu just moved the goalposts back to where they've been for 44 years. Big deal.

In any case, all he did was agree that he would negotiate with a map of the 1967 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 the dismantling of any settlements. In fact, he just authorised 900 new settlement units. 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. What he wants is to prevent the Palestinians from taking their aspirations for statehood to the United Nations this autumn. He thinks they are so brainless that they will accept an empty offer from him rather than try something new, something which - whether it succeeds or not - will fundamentally change the political terrain in a way 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 Haaretz: "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 1967 territories.

Members of the Knesset, it seems, are prepared to lay aside democracy, giving Israel the freedom to hold on to all the territories while continuing to not give democratic rights to the millions of disenfranchised Palestinians who live there.

The legislation, should it pass, would represent the most significant change in Israel's history. Israel would be embracing the idea of theocracy over democracy. Until now, Israel has always insisted that it is 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 recognise 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 is 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, and, just as much, for secular Israelis who are sick and tired of living in a state where rabbis successfully demand 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 should be seen for what it is: a total farce. The Palestinians' hope is to go to the United Nations, which they hopefully will do. As for Israelis, they should keep taking to the streets in protest.

MJ Rosenberg is a Senior Foreign Policy Fellow at the Media Matters Action Network.

A version of this article was previously published on Foreign Policy Matters.


The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily represent Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

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