AFSI often publishes insightful analyses of the peace process from sociological and/or psychological perspectives. Rael Jean Isaac's "Netanyahu, Then and Now" (Outpost, July-August 1998) verges on this genre. She raises the question: Why does Netanyahu now genuflect to Oslo, to an agreement which, prior to his election, he deemed a threat to Israel's existence? After all, nothing has changed. Indeed, Netanyahu himself admits that Arafat has violated every political commitment he has ever made?
Dr. Isaac first attributes Netanyahu's volte face to pressure the commonplace view. She elaborates: pressure from the United States, from Israel's leftwing media, from the Labor opposition, and, no wonder, from polls indicating that a large majority of the public are either strongly or mildly in favor of the peace process.
However, Dr. Isaac notes that only a minority
of the public believes peace lies at the end of the peace
process. A paradoxical phenomenon she explains as the public's sense that there is no use fighting international pressures and Israel had best get on with the inevitable. A gloomy view.
But Isaac goes further: "Pressure is only part of the story ... Netanyahu has intelligence, drive, ambition, energy, a thorough grasp of the realities in the region but he lacks the character that alone can give value to his abilities."
While the above analysis is true, it fails to go to the heart of the problem and leads to a dead end, indeed, to defeatism. Sociological and/or psychological analyses of the peace process typically ignore the institutional causes of Israel's retreat and offer virtually no solution to its malaise. Indeed, they reinforce the superficial view that major political problems require for their solution either a change in the leadership a new prime minister or a change of the party controlling the government. A common attitude in any country having democratic elections. Let us probe a little deeper.
Prior to the 1992 elections, a large Jewish
majority opposed recognition of the PLO as well as
the policy of territory for peace. This same majority, despite
the Oslovian fait accompli of 1993, was largely intact when it elected Netanyahu in 1996. These facts should prompt supporters of Israel to ask: Why did both Labor-led and Likud-led Governments betray Jewish public opinion, nay, abiding Jewish convictions?
The tired answer is pressure. This answer virtually dooms Israel. All we are left to hope for is that Israel's next prime minister will be able to withstand pressure, i.e., will possess the stuff of which heroes are made. Well, the last three decades have produced no political heroes in Israel. How about a political analysis of a political problem, but one that goes beyond the narrow confines of behavioral political science?
Israel's electoral system of fixed party lists has become a haven for political mediocrities, especially retired generals who can become instant cabinet ministers. Also, Israel's political institutions magnify men's vices and render it virtually impossible even for an exceptional politician to exercise dauntless leadership. The profusion of parties produced by a 1.5% electoral threshold fragments Israel's cabinet enough to prevent any prime minister from pursuing a consistent and resolute national strategy. Moreover, Israel's electoral laws have made the Labor Party dependent on the Arab vote, a seldom discussed cause of Labor's Oslovian fantasy.
Labor and Likud Governments can betray Jewish public opinion because Israel's cabinet consists almost entirely of Knesset Members who are not elected by the people, are not accountable to the people, and can therefore ignore the convictions of the people with impunity. These politicians, having safe seats on their party lists, do not have to compete in district elections contrary to the practice of 74 other reputed democracies. And this, more than any other single factor, is the key to Israel's malaise as well as to its remedy.
Contrary to those who attribute Israel's retreat under pressure to an historically induced victimization syndrome or to the fecklessness of its current leaders, I contend that a more fundamental yet more tractable set of facts is at work here. The Jews of Israel are suffering not from passivity so much as from powerlessness; indeed, they have been victimized and humiliated by a badly designed, pseudo-democratic, and utterly corrupt political system. At the birth of societies, writes Montesquieu, the rulers of republics establish institutions; and afterwards the institutions mould the rulers.
A more helpful word from Aristotle, the most constructive student of political institutions. He would urge
(Continued on p.11)
Outpost - 10 - November 1998