In the August 4 Ha’aretz Magazine, Ari Shavit wrote a remarkable article: he blamed the Israel’s failings in the Lebanese war to Israel’s “governing systems.” Shavit, reputedly a Leftist, is calling for systemic change—something I have advocated for decades. Unfortunately, Shavit doesn’t show how Israel’s system is responsible for the Lebanese debacle. That’s what I am now going to do.
Let’s begin with the fact that Labor’s policy of “unilateral disengagement” was the paramount issue of the January 2003 election. The parties that opposed this policy won 84 or 70% of the Knesset’s 120 seats. Hence, an overwhelming majority of the electorate opposed Labor’s policy. This election was the equivalent of a national referendum against disengagement, since no other issue so aroused public interest.
Nevertheless, in December of the same year, Ariel Sharon adopted Labor’s policy and therefore negated the results of the 2003 election. This alone indicates that’s something is rotten in the State of Israel—in its political system.
Almost a million people voted for the Likud in that election, twice those that voted Labor. Yet, in October 2004, when the disengagement bill came to the Knesset, Sharon plus 22 other Likud Knesset Members voted for the bill in violation of their pledge to the nation. Would they have done this had they been individually elected by and accountable to the voters in regional elections? Of course not! So here is unequivocal evidence that periodic multi-party elections in Israel are not sufficient to classify this country as a democracy. And this is not all.
What made those Likud MKs commit treachery by voting to surrender Gaza and northern Samaria to Israel’s enemies? After all, Israel’s highest military and intelligence officials warned against disengagement in testimony before the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. The explanation is quite simple: Sharon, by means of political bribery, induced 22 of his Likud colleagues to vote for disengagement. These politicians sacrificed the national interest to their personal interests: cabinet posts, committee chairmanships, or safe places on their party’s list.
But this means that the Knesset is not a truly independent branch of government. It means that Israel has a system of prime ministerial government. It means that an Israeli prime minister has more political power than a President of the United States, since the will of a U.S. President can be nullified by Congress. But there is more.
Sharon needed the Supreme Court to make the withdrawal from Gaza and northern Samaria kosher (even though the expulsion of 10,000 Jews from their homes violated Basic Law: Human Dignity and Freedom). So what did the Court headed by Chief Justice Aharon Barak do? Contrary to previous Supreme Court decisions, and contrary to objective international law, Barak ruled that Judea, Samaria, and Gaza constitute “belligerent occupied territory”—a pure fabrication, since no state other than Israel had any legal claim to this land—a claim affirmed by the 1920 San Remo Conference which, like the 1925 Anglo-American Accord, incorporated the Balfour Declaration.
So Israel has a Supreme Court—the only court in the world whose membership is controlled by the Chief Justice and two other sitting judges—handing down a ruling that not only ignored a body of international law, but also enabled Sharon to implement the Knesset’s Evacuation Law which made nonsense of the 2003 election. Quite a democracy!
Now, as everyone knows, Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza led to the ascendancy of Hamas and the capture of Cpl. Shalit, which triggered a similar action by Hezbollah, followed by the Olmert government’s inept response. Now more than a million Israelis are homeless or living in bomb shelters, wondering where their children will be going to school in a few weeks. But this unprecedented calamity is also a consequence of Israel’s dysfunctional and undemocratic system of governance.
Although flawed politicians are ultimately culpable, the system enables them to ignore public opinion with impunity and even places them above the law. Here’s proof.
In the June 1992 election, the Labor Party deceived the public when it said it would not negotiate with the PLO—which it was doing secretly and illegally even before 1992. In fact, in 1989, then Prime Minister Shamir, alluding to leaders of the Labor Party, went so far as to say in the Knesset: “I see documents and from them I learn that there are those amongst us who talk about peace but practice treason” – by consorting with the enemy, the PLO.
But given such documents, why didn’t Shamir turn them over to the Attorney General for possible indictments for treason? Can politicians get away with treason under Israel’s system of governance? Isn’t the rule of law operative in “democratic” Israel?
“Democratic Israel”? Consider the March 2005 election, which brought Olmert’s Kadima party to power. But wait! How did this party, which never participated in an election, gain control of the government before the March election. Have you ever heard of such a thing in a democracy?
Remember, the Likud won a landslide victory in the 2003 election—38 seats to Labor’s 19. Yet, all of a sudden, and thanks to Sharon, the Likud became a minor party. Isn’t this marvelous—this “Israeli democracy”—which Moshe Arens, a former Likud Defense Minister, recently called a great success story? Have you ever hard of such nonsense—especially from an American? The country has been ruled by fools or liars—to put it kindly!
But I have yet to say anything about the March 2005 election. The Kadima Party won less than 22% of the votes cast in that election. Yet that 22% made Ehud Olmert prime minister of Israel—Olmert, who had been a more or less despised politician!
If this were not bad enough—given Israel’s system of multiparty cabinet government—Olmert had to form a coalition with the Labor Party, which made Labor chairman Amir Peretz defense minister—a man utterly unqualified for the country’s second most important political office.
Are you beginning to see the picture: the relationship between the SYSTEM and Israel’s current plight in Lebanon?
So, in addition to the flawed character of Israeli politicians, we must also blame the institutions that entrench them in power. It cannot be stated too often that Israel’s political institutions are designed in such a way as to enable proven failures to remain in office—as witness Shimon Peres, the architect of Oslo. Lacking is accountability. Lacking are institutional checks and balances. Democracy, which is supposed to be a self-correcting political system, does not exist in Israel, despite all the lip-service paid to this mantra.
Israel’s system of governance is more accurately described as anarchy punctuated by oligarchy. Regardless of which party or group of parties control the government, there has never been long-range planning in this country. How can you have long-range planning when the average duration of a government since 1948 is less than two years?
Listen: For five years, Giora Eiland served as the head of Israel’s National Security Council. He worked with the country’s leaders, doing the groundwork for them on the most significant decisions of the past decade.
When Eiland resigned, he revealed that every prime minister in the past generation who initiated a foreign policy move was swept into a process with unexpected results. Menachem Begin never imagined he would cede all of Sinai and “establish” a Palestinian homeland; Yitzhak Rabin never imagined he would effectively create an “Arafat state”; Ehud Barak never imagined he would agree to give up 95 percent of the West Bank, as well as the Temple Mount. And Ariel Sharon, it’s obvious, never imagined unilateral withdrawal from Gaza would lead to the present war.
But it’s the System, Stupid—a system that places and entrenches inept, timid, and even treacherous prime ministers in power—that enables them to deceive the nation as they done for thirty years with the policy of “land for peace”—the policy that has led to the present war.
This system is coming to an end: it will collapse by the weight of its own imbecility and unrecognized tyranny. This collapse may well be the most promising consequence of the war in Lebanon, provided men rise above the rubble and reconstruct Israel’s system of governance on truly Jewish foundations.
During the question period I was asked what I would do now if I were Israel’s prime minister. To answer this question intelligently one would need comprehensive information from military, intelligence, and diplomatic sources, which only an insider would have. However, as a political scientist who has studied the masters of war, as soon as the war broke out I published articles on Sun Tzu, George Patton and William Tecumseh Sherman of Civil War fame, and urged an immediate, air supported ground invasion sweeping up to the Litani River, as well as an attack on Syria’s air force and missile system (Syria being the supplier of Hezbollah).
I even advocated a declaration of war against Lebanon, whose government has Hezbollah ministers, a government that has allowed Hezbollah to amass 13,000 missiles and develop a military infrastructure in much of the country—all of which indicates that Lebanon is a belligerent in this war. The people of Lebanon elected the Lebanese government; they are not just innocent civilians. Indeed, more than a million support Hezbollah, and they know of Hezbollah’s genocidal objectives toward Israel. By not declaring war on Lebanon—of course with revealing statements—Israel’s government is largely responsible for the Jew-hatred resulting from the “collateral damage” caused by the bombing of Hezbollah targets.
One last word: If a Hezbollah cell in the United States was to destroy a target comparable to the Brooklyn Bridge, rest assured the U.S. would react toward Iran even more violently than it did to the Taliban in Afghanistan after 9/11. And then heads would roll in the Bush administration for allowing some 14 Hezbollah cells to operate in America.