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Referendums, Palestinians and the Settlements

The self-satisfaction of the doves, as if they were righteous and thus their work were being done by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, allows the settlers’ demand for a referendum to spread as a malignant affliction, gaining legitimacy. Employing the tactic of repeating a lie, Yesha Council officials are reiterating the same dubious “truth” according to which “the evacuation of Jews from their homes” is immoral, but if the nation decides in a referendum then everything would be fine.

This position, with its peculiar contradictions, is heard non-stop in the media. It raises a sad question about the moral outlook of the Yesha Council [Council of Jewish Settlements of of Judea, Samaria and Gaza District] officials. Would a referendum make the withdrawal more ethical? More worthy of obedience? The integrity of the Yesha Council officials also comes into question. If these matters indeed reach the extent of Holocaust images, concentration camps, Star of David patches, what does the magical solution of a referendum have to do with all that?

And if a referendum decides in favor of “a transfer of Jews,” should the Israelis who participate in this–regarded by Yesha officials as Nazis sending Jews with yellow badges to death transports–be worthy of an attitude different from the one the train guards deserve?

If the cries of “Auschwitz” can be set aside, for reasons of good taste, the playing of the chord of democracy must not be accepted with forbearance because it constitutes part of the winning tactics of Yesha Council officials. If the opposition or the left wing of the coalition had a bit more courage, its members should have said several explicit things that Sharon cannot say, because he does not think them.

The settlers believe that there is no sovereign that can give up “parts of the Land of Israel,” which God promised to the people of Israel. The State of Israel, according to this anti-democratic outlook (which makes wide use of the rhetoric of democracy), cannot represent the people living in Israel. Words to this effect were already written in the declaration establishing the Greater Israel movement immediately after the conquest of the territories, a manifesto that rejected the legitimacy of any government that might try to return the territories.

Moreover, a referendum on the future of the occupied territories that is not held among the Palestinians–the only legal residents of the territories–not only makes a mockery of democracy, and not only from the perspective of international law, but also from the perspective of Israeli law. A referendum of Jews on the future of the Palestinian territories grants a legal seal of approval to the existing de facto state of apartheid in the territories. Why are the settlers so eager to conduct a referendum that they would clearly lose? Because this type of referendum, which requires a legislative process, would give legal validity to apartheid.

These things must be said to counter the settlers’ propaganda campaign, but the response must not be confined to a legalistic framework. The silence about the demand for a referendum or the formal answers (about the supremacy of decisions by the Knesset and government) contributes toward reinforcing the Israeli ethnocracy, a polite name for the Jewish collective, “clean of Palestinians.” The way the argument is currently being sounded, the arrangement does not affect the residents of the territories at all. According to this argument, their ancestral home has already belonged to the Jewish people for a long time, whether or not the Jewish people decides to give it up.

From the perspective of raising a new generation of masters–masters of the land, the settlers’ victory has already been achieved under the auspices of the rear guard battle over disengagement if they are not told the truth: Democracy exists so that human beings and nations can decide their fate and future. It cannot be divided–“only for Jews.”

Anyone familiar with the political discourse in Israel realizes that the moment a referendum process begins, the demand will be raised to deny Arab citizens of Israel the right to vote in it. Masters Avigdor Lieberman, Yuri Stern and other democrats have expressed their opinions on the ethnic cleansing of the State of Israel. An argument over the referendum, which does not utterly reject this type of poll, subscribes to the logic of Lieberman.

Strange is the silence of those who believe their role is currently limited to group photographs with Sharon.

YITZHAK LAOR is an Israeli novelist who lives in Tel Aviv.

 

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