Referendum? Ask the people who live there, not those who control them.
Articles 1 and 2 are arguments against and for a referendum on any peace agreement. UPDATE:new poll shows majority of Israelis will accept any peace deal that Netanyahu proposes.
The funeral of Yitzhak Rabin who was assassinated on November 4, 1995 by Yigal Amir, a far-right student who – like many Israelis led by Likud, thought Rabin was guilty of treachery and heresy by proposing Israelis should cede control over the West Bank and Gaza to the Palestinians. Carlo Strenger, 2, argues that the purpose of an Israeli-only referendum would be to keep the right-wing on side in any settlement. Photo by Magnum photos.
Asking the wrong people
If the law Netanyahu is backing requires approval from a referendum for any agreement with the Palestinians, then the requirement for a referendum will be broadened, requiring it also for territories in the West Bank where Israeli law has never been applied.
By Aeyal Gross, Ha’aretz
July 23, 2013
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is initiating a new law that will require a national referendum over any peace agreement with the Palestinians as Haaretz reported Monday. Presently, such a referendum is required to approve an agreement that includes giving up territory that is under Israel’s legal and administrative authority – in other words, East Jerusalem, the Golan Heights and areas within the Green Line.
If the law Netanyahu is backing requires approval from a referendum for any agreement with the Palestinians, then he is broadening the requirement for a referendum and will require it also for territories in the West Bank where Israeli law has never been applied.
There are those who claim that the initiative to hold a referendum as a condition for an agreement with the Palestinians is driven by the refusal to make peace. And there are those of the opinion that a referendum could actually grant legitimacy to the politicians to make sacrifices. But when we speak of a referendum over territory that Israel controls, it is important to point out the main failure of the proposal: Those who need to be asked about the future of these territories are really the people who live there.
A referendum is accepted as a tool for determining questions of self-determination. It has been used concerning territories whose residents do not control them, where they are asked if they want to integrate into the country that controls them, or alternately to receive independence. That is how it was, for example, in East Timor, which was under Indonesian occupation and, in the wake of a referendum, became an independent nation.
A referendum is also used over territories that are part of democratic countries but contain those who wish for independence, In Quebec, for instance, referenda were carried out in which only the residents of those territories took part – not all the citizens of Canada – and the majority decided they were happy to remain part of Canada.
In 2014, a referendum will be held in Scotland on the question of whether to remain part of the United Kingdom or to seek independence. In Northern Ireland, a referendum was held with the goal of approving the agreement that determined it would remain part of the United Kingdom. In both cases, only the residents of the territories whose fate was/is under discussion participated/will participate in the referendum, not all the residents of the United Kingdom.
In all these cases mentioned, the referendum is used as a democratic means through which the residents of the territory can express their position on their future, while implementing the principle of self-determination. Only in Israel do they think it is not the residents of the relevant territory but the citizens of the occupying country who need to hold the referendum, in which the future of the occupied territory and its residents will be determined.
In other words, we are asking the wrong people. Even if the majority of Israeli citizens will want to continue to rule the territories, this will not be a legitimate decision, since the residents of the territory are those who must decide on their future. It is impossible to justify, in the name of a so-called democratic process, the continued rule of occupation that is not democratic. The proposals that are calling to ask Israel’s citizens about the future of the territories, not the residents of the territories, expresses a way of thinking in which the rights of the Palestinians do not matter.
A referendum won by a clear margin would provide legitimacy for a peace agreement and might conceivably mitigate some of the phenomena we witnessed before Rabin was murdered following the Oslo Accord.
By Carlo Strenger,Ha’aretz
July 24, 2013
A recent poll conducted by Haaretz shows that if a referendum was conducted about a peace agreement presented by Israel’s government, the results would be as follows: Thirty-nine percent of Israelis said they would vote in favor; 16 percent think they would vote in favor; 20 percent are sure they would vote against and 20 percent are not sure. This means that in most likelihood such a referendum would pass.
Currently the demand to put any withdrawal from the West Bank to a referendum is primarily sponsored by Israel’s right, including Naftali Bennett’s national-religious Habayit Hayehudi party. Most liberal commentators are against this motion, and some of them are well-founded. Nevertheless their objection to such a referendum is shortsighted for a number of reasons.
Law Professor Aeyal Gross has put the most powerful objection succinctly, claiming that such a referendum would be asking the wrong people for its agreement. He points out correctly that the question whether they want to be part of Great Britain will be put to the Scots, and not to the British as a whole, and that the Northern Irish decided the fate of Northern Ireland. Hence, as Gross points out, the people who should really be asked whether they want to be part of Israel or have a state of their own are the Palestinians, and not Israelis.
I completely agree with Gross. Personally I do not think that it is up to Israelis to determine the status of the West Bank, because they are not part of Israel. And his point that the Palestinians rather than Israelis should determine their fate reflects the human rights paradigm correctly and is supported by international law.
Nevertheless I think that a referendum on withdrawal from the West Bank is advisable on purely pragmatic grounds. The chasms in Israeli society are very deep indeed.
A peace agreement with the Palestinians will strain this society’s cohesiveness to the breaking point. It might therefore be advisable that such a peace agreement be backed by the Israeli people. A referendum won by a clear margin would certainly provide such legitimacy for a peace agreement and might conceivably mitigate some of the phenomena we witnessed from 1993 to 1995 when Rabin was murdered.
First and foremost it is to be expected that if indeed an agreement with the Palestinians is reached – and this is a big “if” – it will cause an enormous upheaval in Israeli society. We should remember that when Rabin signed the Oslo accords, huge demonstrations were staged, posters with Rabin in Nazi uniform were carried, and national-religious rabbis ruled that Rabin’s legal status was that of a ‘Mosser’, of a man who delivers Jews to gentile jurisdiction. As a result it seemed legitimate to kill Rabin, which, as we know, turned into a terrible reality.
It is difficult to predict which form protests against a peace agreement with the Palestinians will take this time, but we can be sure that the ideological right will not give in meekly. We can only hope that they will refrain from violence this time, and that they would respect a democratic decision, but the likelihood is that at least the right’s extreme fringes won’t do so.
In addition any such agreement would require dismantling a certain amount of settlements, and to remove many thousands of settlers from their homes. The withdrawal from the Gaza strip was a huge trauma for the settlers who were uprooted, and it was an event that was very difficult for most Israelis.
Furthermore, even though the bill to demand a referendum about any withdrawal from the territories is sponsored by the right, such a referendum would make it much more difficult for Israel’s right to call such a peace agreement, if reached, illegitimate. One claim of the right against Rabin was that he didn’t have a “Jewish majority” for the Oslo agreements, because Rabin’s government only had a parliamentary majority through the support of the Knesset’s Arab parties.
Nevermind that this argument was despicable and showed the extent to which Israel’s right does not perceive Israel’s Arab citizens as having equal rights. The fact is that this accusation against Rabin played a strong role in Israeli discourse. It contributed to the atmosphere that painted Israel’s left as anti-Israel and Rabin as a traitor. And while a clear decision of the people might not prevent Israel’s radical right from resorting to potentially violent protest against a peace agreement, it might create more legitimacy for cracking down on illegal forms of resistance against it.
Finally: let us assume that Netanyahu has indeed made the historic decision to reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians. Personally I have doubts that he has indeed reached this point, and that he is willing to walk the extra mile required to reach peace, but I will assume for the moment that he has.
In this case Netanyahu is in very dire straits politically. His own party, the Likud, has turned into an extreme right-wing party for all intents and purposes, and most of its MKs are actually opposed to the two state solution. He is in a similar situation as Ariel Sharon was when he decided to withdraw from the Gaza strip, and couldn’t get a majority for this decision in the Likud. Sharon solved the problem by creating Kadima, and taking the moderates of the Likud with him to move ahead with the disengagement from Gaza.
Netanyahu seems not to have this option. There are not enough moderates in the Likud for him to initiate such a move, and it is difficult to see parliamentarians from what other parties he could mobilize for creating a new party platform of his own. Those on his right would be of no use to him, as they oppose withdrawal from the West Bank, and those on his left are unlikely to accept his leadership. It therefore seems that Netanyahu will need to be able to claim that he gains his legitimacy for a peace agreement from the people itself, and that the majority of Israelis support it.
In an ideal world Palestinians rather than Israelis would decide Palestinians’ fate. But in an ideal world, Israel would not have built settlements in the West Bank to begin with. Furthermore in an ideal world the second Intifada would not have happened, and Mahmoud Abbas would have signed a peace deal with Israel years ago.
But we do not live in an ideal world. Israel is torn, its citizenry is divided, and the settler’s political power is considerable. Under these circumstances a popular referendum might increase the slim chances that the elusive solution of the Israel/Palestine conflict will come to an end in the foreseeable future.
Thirty-nine percent of respondents said they would support any plan Netanyahu presented, while another 16 percent said they would probably approve such a plan. Twenty percent were sure they would vote against.
By Yossi Verter and Jonathan Lis, Ha’aretz
July 24, 2013
More than half of all Israelis would likely support any peace agreement Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu submitted to a referendum, a poll carried out Wednesday found. The poll was conducted four days after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s announcement last Friday that negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians would resume.
Following that announcement, Netanyahu, under pressure from his right-wing coalition partners, pledged that he would bring any peace deal to a referendum.
In the survey, 39 percent of respondents said they would support any plan Netanyahu presented, while another 16 percent said they would probably approve such a plan. Five percent said they thought they would vote against it, 20 percent were sure they would vote against it, and 20 percent were undecided.
The survey of 511 respondents was carried out by the Dialog Institute under the supervision of Prof. Camil Fuchs of Tel Aviv University.
Meanwhile, at a meeting Tuesday of the Knesset caucus for the Land of Israel, chairman Yariv Levin (Likud) said he had no objection to negotiations, but they had to be without preconditions. Moreover, “we want to come out of the talks with the settlements preserved, because that’s the only way to ensure Israel’s security and bring peace and stability.”
In response to reports that Netanyahu has agreed to the release 82 Palestinian prisoners who have been in Israeli jails since before the Oslo Accords were signed in 1993, Levin said he was “unequivocally opposed” to the move. “It does not matter to me how many years they have been in prison. A murderer has to pay the full price, as punishment and as deterrence.” Levin said he also opposes freezing settlement construction as a gesture, and that construction should begin immediately, “to show them we mean it.” “We were told Tuesday that despite the enormous pressure, the prime minister stood strong and did not agree to restrictions,” he added.
At the meeting of the Likud’s Knesset faction, Levin reiterated this stance, urging Netanyahu to “release tenders [for construction], not murderers.”
Deputy Foreign Minister Zeev Elkin also took Netanyahu to task at the caucus meeting over the reports of a prisoner release and a building freeze in the settlements.
“The state of Israel will not give up its right to build in Judea and Samaria. It is crooked logic to say that the release of terrorists contributes to peace and the construction of a kindergarten hurts peace,” he said. MK Orit Strock (Habayit Hayehudi) added, “We demand to see proof that there are no preconditions, whether a prisoner release or a building freeze in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria.”