Life is More Important than Democracy

To many Zionists, particularly those left of center, the existence of a Jewish state divorced from their concept of democratic values and what constitutes an acceptable democracy, signals the end of the Zionist dream.  For such Zionists, an Israel that fails to live up to their vision of what a Jewish and democratic state should be, is not only heart-breaking, but may also constitute a threat to the continued existence of Israel as a Jewish state.

The idea is promulgated that a two-state solution is the only vehicle that can save Israel from losing its democratic character, and that time is running out to implement it.  Some even go as far as to claim that absent the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, Israel will become an Apartheid state.

The line of reasoning for the proposition that the creation of a Palestinian state is the only means to preserve Israel’s democratic or Jewish character is as follows.  Absent a two-state solution, either one of two things will happen.  One possibility is that Israel will become a bi-national state (usually referred to as the “one-state solution”), and that due to the demography, the Jewish majority will either immediately or within a relatively short period of time be lost.  It is claimed that since the Arabs outnumber, or will outnumber, the Jews from the Jordan river to the sea, the character of Israel as a Jewish state will come to an end, and in essence, it would be the end of the Jewish state.  Since this is not a realistic eventuality in my view, in this article I will speak to the second proffered possibility.

The other possibility proffered is that the status quo will be maintained, as a result of which the democratic character of Israel will be lost.  By keeping control of the West Bank without granting its Arab population citizenship (and therefore denying them the right to vote and be represented in the Knesset), Israel could not call itself a true democracy.  As a result Israel would become a Jewish but non-democratic state, since the rights and privileges of a democratic system, while applying to many, would not apply to all the inhabitants in the land.

Many of those who are anxious to see the implementation of a two-state solution believe that we are running out of time.  That as time goes on, the settlement enterprise becomes more and more embedded, thereby eventually making it too difficult or impossible to remove the settlements and its residents in the future.

Those who view the democratic character of the Jewish state as an indispensable component of true Zionism and their vision of the Jewish state in accordance with their values, essentially see the loss of such democratic character (as they define it) as the end of a morally defensible Jewish state, or even as the end of the Zionist enterprise itself.  They also believe that no security considerations can justify such a loss of democratic character, either on the basis of morality, or because we will lose the support of the entire world, including our closest allies, and we could never withstand such global isolation.

Therefore, such Zionists are willing, or feel compelled, to overlook the clear and present dangers of allowing for the existence of a Palestinian state in the territories.  The idea of Israel losing its pure democratic character is so unacceptable, these Zionists believe it is better to take our chances with the security repercussions of a two-state solution.

I cannot support or sympathize with this point-of-view for one simple reason: I value human life more than I value democracy.  Like many Jews, I used to support the two-state solution, and like many Jews, Palestinian intransigence and rejectionism led me to both lose faith that a two-state agreement can be reached (at least not anywhere in the near future), or that it is even in our best interest to do so if it could actually be achieved.

There are four general scenarios that could play out in the event of the creation of a Palestinian state.  One, the Palestinian government that a peace agreement is signed with will be disingenuous and use its empowerment to immediately begin the process of setting the stage for the next assault on the Jewish state.  Two, the government an agreement is reached with will within a relatively short period time fall to Hamas (either through democratic elections or by force), resulting in a neighboring terrorist state pledged to put our existence to an end – a la Gaza.  Three, relative stability is reached for a good number of years, but eventually the controlling power is toppled and replaced by Islamic fundamentalists who seek our destruction – a la Egypt.  Four, we actually achieve a real and permanent peace with the Palestinians through the creation of a Palestinian state.

In my estimation, scenarios number one or two are most likely.  This assessment is not based on possessing a pessimistic nature or an intrinsic unwillingness to cede territory in exchange for real peace.  Rather, it is based upon the hard core facts of our experience with the Palestinians since the signing of the Oslo accords in 1993.  It is the height of intellectually dishonesty to turn a blind eye to the events that have taken place in our efforts to reach peace with the Palestinians based on the paradigm of land for peace and the lessons to be drawn from them.  All our concessions have led to the weakening of Israel’s position, not only from a security standpoint, but from a public relations standpoint as well.

In the West Bank, our land for peace experiment led to a significant empowerment of the terrorists and to the second Intifada, costing us dearly in human lives.  The only reason the situation has been brought under control is Israeli military action and continuing security measures, including the building of the security fence.  Furthermore, following the collapse of the Clinton sponsored Camp David talks between Ehud Barak and Arafat, and the unleashing of the second intifada, the world became hyper-critical of our efforts to defend our civilians and defeat the terrorists.  In spite of Israel’s clear and unmistakable attempt to reach an historic peace agreement, and the violent war of terrorism unleashed by the Palestinians, the world displayed an irrational frenzy of anti-Israel sentiment.

With regard to the Gaza Strip, conceding that the security situation was not stable prior to the evacuation of the settlements, there is no comparison with what the aftermath of the withdrawal has wrought.  Most significantly, the giving up of control over the Philadelphi Corridor has led to an extraordinary increase in the influx of weapons (including more advanced missiles), as well as Jihad fighters, that constitute a ticking time-bomb.  When Israel finally engaged in a significant offensive against Hamas in Gaza in late 2008 and early 2009 following years of restraint in the face of thousands of rockets launched, the world again dismissed our withdrawal from Gaza and vilified Israel’s self-defense measures.

Giving up sovereignty of the West Bank in light of what the most recent of history has taught us would be the height of folly.  Such a concession would greatly empower the Palestinians, from both a logistical and psychological standpoint, to continue their fight against the Jewish state.  For those who proffer that Israel will always retain the option of re-taking control of the territories in the event the Palestinians were to use a Palestinian state to bring their war against Israel to the heart of her population centers (mainly via missiles and rocket launchers), the lessons learned from our experience in Gaza must be taken to heart.  In Gaza, the removal of our military presence has allowed for Hamas and other Islamic fundamentalist militant groups to embed themselves firmly and deeply in the territory.  As a result, sending in our ground forces to the heart of the population centers (the only true way to gain definitive victory) has now become infinitely more filled with peril and would exact a grievous cost in blood from our soldiers.  This has resulted in Israeli administrations deciding to fight the war in Gaza mostly from the air, only allowing our ground forces to reach the periphery of the major population centers where the terrorists ensconce and fortify themselves.

If we were to remove our military presence from the West Bank, the same principle would apply and again our leaders will be loath to send in ground forces into the population centers of the new Palestinian state.  Our military capability to regain control over the activities of the terrorists would be irreparably harmed.

Furthermore, just as in the past, we will not gain the understanding of the world were we to engage in military action to protect our citizens from missiles flying in from the West Bank.  Instead, we could only expect an increase in world-wide vitriol against the Jewish State for simply seeking to defend itself.  Those who repeat the mantra that if we make concessions we will gain the approval and understanding of the rest of the world ignore the clear lesson that just the opposite is true.  The world will praise us when we give up land and take existential risks for peace, but when it all explodes in our face and we are forced to respond, the world quickly forgets and comes down hard on Israel as if our past concessions serve no indication of the sincerity of our intentions.

If Israel has to live with an imperfect democracy in order to avoid placing our civilian population in great danger, I certainly choose life over democracy.  Democracy serves as a vehicle to improve life.  When adhering to democratic values results in endangering life, democracy loses it value.  Life is more important than democracy.

About the Author
Ran Zev Schijanovich was born in Israel in 1970 to an Argentinian father and American mother, lived in Argentina through age 11, and then moved to New York. He made aliyah in 2005 and served as a combat soldier in Golani from the ages of 36 to 38. Ran is graduate of the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law.