Elections Without Democracy

by SAM BAHOUR And TODD MAY

During the 1970’s, the apartheid government of South Africa sought to bolster its claims to legitimacy by allowing elections in the Bantustans – the equivalent to today’s walled in Palestinian communities in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The thought was that if people elected local officials, even to hold largely ceremonial offices, then the rest of the world would stop whining about how undemocratic and illegal apartheid was.

There were two problems with this strategy. First, the world understood that ceremonial elections do not make a democracy. Second, the major candidate in any election that would be endorsed by black South Africans-Nelson Mandela-was being held in a South African prison. Instead, black South Africans were being offered collaborator candidates that were chosen by the white South African government.

Through its policy of "constructive engagement," however, the Reagan administration tacitly endorsed this strategy, even when Congress resisted by passing the Anti-Apartheid Act in 1986.

How little has changed. Except for the lack of Congressional resistance, the situation in the Israeli-occupied territories mirrors that of apartheid South Africa. Palestinians are being forced, either by choice or fate, to agree to "acceptable" candidates for elections to offices that will have only as much power as the Israeli government, underwritten by the Bush administration, grants.

Consider the ceremonial character of the offices for which any Palestinian would be running. The Palestinian infrastructure has been decimated by thirty-seven years of military occupation and, more recently, the Israeli invasion of 2002 and subsequent military incursions. Palestinians do not control the resources that lie on their land. Their streets are patrolled by a foreign army and their movements limited by humiliating checkpoints. There are not even recognized borders for this land over which the legislators will have no legislative control. In short, for those who would receive the honor of being elected to a Palestinian democratic institution, there will be nothing to legislate, nothing to be legislated over, and no resources with which to legislate. This is the democracy Palestinians are being offered.

And there is more. Not only was the last elected president of the Palestinian people forced to languish until his death under permanent house arrest, two current Palestinian Legislative Council members, who were supposed to be immune from Israeli interference, currently reside in Israeli jails for their political leadership. Along with these two political prisoners, over 7,000 Palestinian prisoners remain detained by Israel, many of them leaders of their communities.

Say what one will, both apartheid South Africa and Israel have recognized leaders when they have seen them.

Eventually, South Africa stopped the bloodshed on its land by reversing the historic injustice caused to blacks in South Africa. Israel, on the other hand, seems not only blind to the future Palestinian leaders, but has refused even to acknowledge the growing number of its own citizens who are choosing to be jailed instead of serving the Israeli occupation.

Calls for democratization among the Palestinians serve the wider purposes of the Sharon and Bush administrations. Such calls hint that the problem lies not in the occupation of Palestinian land but in the political character of the Palestinian people. If we are not ready for democracy, as defined by our occupier and its funder, then perhaps, they reason, the occupation can justifiably continue.

However, the Palestinian people, and much of the world besides, understand the difference between an empty democracy and the real thing. If Palestinians have been so slow to ratify the institutional trappings that have recently been offered to them, if they seem to balk at the ‘generosity’ shown by the Israelis and the Americans, perhaps the fault does not lie solely with the Palestinians themselves. Perhaps it is because what Palestinians seek is true independence on their own land over which they have effective control. In other words, a democracy.

Sam Bahour (SBAHOUR@palnet.com) is a Palestinian-American living in Ramallah and Todd May (TKDRJMAY@aol.com) is a Professor of Philosophy at Clemson University (Institution given for identification purposes only).

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
September 01, 2015
Mike Whitney
Return to Crisis: Things Keep Getting Worse
Michael Schwalbe
The Moral Hazards of Capitalism
Eric Mann
Inside the Civil Rights Movement: a Conversation With Julian Bond
Pam Martens
How Wall Street Parasites Have Devoured Their Hosts, Your Retirement Plan and the U.S. Economy
Jonathan Latham
Growing Doubt: a Scientist’s Experience of GMOs
Fran Shor
Occupy Wall Street and the Sanders Campaign: a Case of Historical Amnesia?
Joe Paff
The Big Trees: Cockburn, Marx and Shostakovich
Randy Blazak
University Administrators Allow Fraternities to Turn Colleges Into Rape Factories
Robert Hunziker
The IPCC Caught in a Pressure Cooker
George Wuerthner
Myths of the Anthropocene Boosters: Truthout’s Misguided Attack on Wilderness and National Park Ideals
Robert Koehler
Sending Your Children Off to Safe Spaces in College
Jesse Jackson
Season of the Insurgents: From Trump to Sanders
August 31, 2015
Michael Hudson
Whitewashing the IMF’s Destructive Role in Greece
Conn Hallinan
Europe’s New Barbarians
Lawrence Ware
George Bush (Still) Doesn’t Care About Black People
Joseph Natoli
Plutocracy, Gentrification and Racial Violence
Franklin Spinney
One Presidential Debate You Won’t Hear: Why It is Time to Adopt a Sensible Grand Strategy
Dave Lindorff
What’s Wrong with Police in America
Louis Proyect
Jacobin and “The War on Syria”
Lawrence Wittner
Militarism Run Amok: How Russians and Americans are Preparing Their Children for War
Binoy Kampmark
Tales of Darkness: Europe’s Refugee Woes
Ralph Nader
Lo, the Poor Enlightened Billionaire!
Peter Koenig
Greece: a New Beginning? A New Hope?
Dean Baker
America Needs an “Idiot-Proof” Retirement System
Vijay Prashad
Why the Iran Deal is Essential
Tom Clifford
The Marco Polo Bridge Incident: a History That Continues to Resonate
Peter Belmont
The Salaita Affair: a Scandal That Never Should Have Happened
Weekend Edition
August 28-30, 2015
Randy Blazak
Donald Trump is the New Face of White Supremacy
Jeffrey St. Clair
Long Time Coming, Long Time Gone
Mike Whitney
Looting Made Easy: the $2 Trillion Buyback Binge
Alan Nasser
The Myth of the Middle Class: Have Most Americans Always Been Poor?
Rob Urie
Wall Street and the Cycle of Crises
Andrew Levine
Viva Trump?
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
Behind the Congressional Disagreements Over the Iran Nuclear Deal
Lawrence Ware – Marcus T. McCullough
I Won’t Say Amen: Three Black Christian Clichés That Must Go
Evan Jones
Zionism in Britain: a Neglected Chronicle
John Wight
Learning About the Migration Crisis From Ancient Rome
Andre Vltchek
Lebanon – What if it Fell?
Charles Pierson
How the US and the WTO Crushed India’s Subsidies for Solar Energy
Robert Fantina
Hillary Clinton, Palestine and the Long View
Ben Burgis
Gore Vidal Was Right: What Best of Enemies Leaves Out
Suzanne Gordon
How Vets May Suffer From McCain’s Latest Captivity
Robert Sandels - Nelson P. Valdés
The Cuban Adjustment Act: the Other Immigration Mess
Uri Avnery
The Molten Three: Israel’s Aborted Strike on Iran
John Stanton
Israel’s JINSA Earns Return on Investment: 190 Americans Admirals and Generals Oppose Iran Deal