Israel's Core Problems
Can Be Solved
Prof. Paul Eidelberg
An article in the October 1997 issue of Outpost ("Is the Arab Vote Israel's Real Problem"?") grossly oversimplifies my understanding of, and proffered constitutional solution to, Israel's dilemmas.
It should be obvious to anyone that the Arab vote is one of Israel's most serious problems. It should also be obvious that Israel also has a serious "Jewish problem." But it requires some training in political science to see wherein Israel's political institutions are flawed, and
how these flaws exacerbate the "Arab problem" as well as the "Jewish problem." My critic errs in failing to make a distinction between necessary and sufficient causality. Just as it would be a mistake to attribute Israel's woes merely to the Arab vote, so it is an error to attribute Israel's woes to the "Jewish problem." Consider.
Before Israel's 1992 national elections, Jewish public opinion was overwhelmingly opposed to the policy of "territory for peace." Nevertheless, Jewish public opinion was ignored by the Rabin-Peres Government. Why? What enabled that Government to be unaffected by the
deepest and abiding convictions of a large majority of Israel's Jewish population? Why weren't those convictions represented at least in the legislature, the Knesset? One reason is that Israel is the only reputed democracy whose legislature is not based on constituency elections.
Moreover, of the 77 legislatures I have examined, Israel's Knesset is the only one based on fixed party lists. As any political scientist knows, fixed party lists without constituency elections leads to top-down leadership which allows the Government to dominate the Knesset and ignore public opinion. These are institutional or constitutional issues. But there is more.
Were it not for the support of Israel's Arab voters and Arab parties, the Labor-Meretz coalition would not have come to power in July 1992, which means there would have been no Oslo or Israel-PLO Agreement. (Few
people realize that, ever since 1977, when Labor lost the support of the religious parties, it has become dependent on the Arab vote, and it has had to pay for that vote --as it did at Oslo!)
Notice, moreover, that the Oslo Agreement was ratified on the White House lawn, that is, without any serious public or Knesset debate. This would not have been possible if Israel had a Constitution requiring extraordinary majorities for ratification of any foreign agreement. Now, if some political scientist came from Mars
and examined the policy of "territory for peace," he would see that the policy is logically suicidal, for it requires Israel to surrender territory whenever the Arabs threaten war. If he then examined the Saxton "Task Force Report on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare," he would have empirical evidence that the policy of "territory for peace" has so weakened Israel that Arab-Islamic states have been encouraged to arm for Israel's annihilation.
He would then ask: "Why have both Labor and Likud governments pursued this policy? He would conclude that external as well as internal factors were at work. External: American pressure. Internal: (1) decline of Zionist idealism (2) the Arab vote, which even the Likud doesn't ignore and (3) the flawed character of Israel political institutions.
He would see that Israel's present Government, consisting of seven parties, will be more susceptible to American pressure, and that it will be incapable of pursuing a coherent and resolute national strategy such as to promote national solidarity. Such solidarity, he would see, is quite possible because 80 percent of Israel's Jewish population are either Orthodox or more or less traditional. Of course, he would recognize the need for authentic Jewish leadership --a Jewish de Gaulle-- to restore Jewish national pride. But, being a political scientist, he would know that de Gaulle would have accomplished nothing in France had he not instituted a new Constitution that terminated the regime of the parties which had rendered government impossible in that country.
One last word. The Outpost article states that Israel's "core problems are not susceptible to solution." How ironic, for this fatalistic attitude is contrary to the essence of Judaism! Such fatalism is hardly befitting an article which claims that "The root of the problem is not
the Arabs, but the Jews, above all the determination of so many Jews in the Jewish state to repudiate the Jewish past and to believe in their own utopian fantasies." Not only is fatalism a repudiation of the Jewish past, but it is misleading to suggest that most Jews in Israel are suffering from utopian fantasies (as is Shimon Peres). The truth is that most Jews in Israel have never had a government that represents their deepest and abiding convictions, and that's why Israel desperately needs to reform its political institutions, for which purpose a Jewish Constitution can serve as a most practical, pedagogical device.
Prof. Paul Eidelberg is the Founder and President of the Foundation for Constitutional Democracy in the Middle East, located at 244 Madison Ave., Suite 427, New York, NY 10016.
Outpost - 6 - November 1997