Israel, Obama and the Settlements: A crisis too good to waste

Israel, Obama and the Settlements: A crisis too good to waste

If President Obama is serious about requiring Israel to cease all settlement activity and is willing to use all the resources at his disposal to accomplish this end, then his actions may serve Israel’s interests in an unanticipated manner by affording Israelis the opportunity to revise their dysfunctional parliamentary form of government. This would result in the elimination of the stranglehold the minority religious and settler parties have on the political process.
Orthodox Jews comprise about 15 percent of Israel’s population. However, Israel’s dysfunctional parliamentary form of government enables the Orthodox to exercise dictatorial control over all aspects of Israeli civil life. For example, legislation is ready to be introduced in the Knesset that would permit any Israeli Jew to be stripped of their citizenship by Orthodox decree without recourse to the courts. Civil marriages and divorces are not allowed. A disproportionate amount of public monies goes to fund Orthodox schools.
The settlers and the Orthodox believe it is God’s will that the West Bank be incorporated into the State of Israel. For this reason they oppose any limits on settlement growth and oppose a land for peace arrangement with the Palestinians.
To achieve this end, settlers have adopted some of the terror tactics of their Islamic counterparts. For example, to retaliate against government attempts to close illegal settlements or to arrest Jewish terrorists, the settlers attack army and police personnel. According to government statistics, in the first nine months of 2008 there were 450 settler attacks on security personnel by settlers.
Settlers also practice terror against Israelis who oppose them. For example, rabbinic decrees have been issued calling for the murder of opposition Israelis, the home of a critic of the settlements has been bombed, and the person and properly of settler critics have been attacked.
The settlers have named their terror strategy the “Price Tag” in their belief that Israel would not be willing to pay the “price” that will be extracted by the settlers if any attempt is made to stop settlement growth or to evacuate the West Bank as part of a settlement with the Palestinians.
The “Price Tag” strategy has been successful because Israel’s dysfunctional form of parliamentary government has enabled the settlers and their supporters to block any effort to limit settlement growth or curtail settler terror operations.
In other parliamentary democracies, a political party is not entitled to a seat in parliament unless it receives a substantial percentage of the vote. In Israel, a political party need only receive 2 percent of the vote to obtain a seat in the Knesset.
This results in the creation of a multitude of smaller single-issue parties. No major political party is able to form a government without entering into a fragile coalition with some of these parties. Due to their ability to bring down the government of which they are members, these parties (especially the religious and settler parties) promote their agenda regardless of the will of the majority of the electorate.
The political crisis that would be precipitated if President Obama insists upon the cessation of all settlement activity could present Israelis a historic opportunity to make their parliamentary form of government more democratic and to eliminate the stranglehold on the legislative process possessed by the minority settler and religious parties.
More specifically, the settlers and the Orthodox understand that a large majority of the population would support the cessation of all settlement growth especially in view of the strenuous, sanction-backed objections of the United States.
In an attempt to forestall this outcome, settlers and Orthodox, acting in the name of God, will likely resort to violence on a massive scale. Many people may be injured or killed. Property losses would run into the billions of dollars.
Against this backdrop of violence and defiance of the will of the majority, a political party might win an absolute majority in the Knesset; a majority that would have both the mandate and power to modify Israel’s parliamentary system of government so as to make it more democratic and to eliminate the ability of a religious minority to impose their will on the majority.

(Mark Glosser, a retired attorney, lives in Squirrel Hill.)