Anomaly or Non-Democracy?
Still, there have been calls to boycott the settlements. "Israel," argues Peter Beinart, "is forging ... an entity of dubious democratic legitimacy" that bars "West Bank Palestinians ... from citizenship and the right to vote in the state that controls their lives." Beinart's reasoning is based on the assumption that the West Bank Palestinians are denied democratic rights, legal recourse, or any say in their future, and that Israel has taken no serious measures to facilitate Palestinian statehood.
In reality, the majority of the Palestinians in the West Bank reside in areas administered by the Palestinian Authority. Together with the Palestinians living under direct Israeli control, they vote in the Palestinian elections. These were scheduled for January 2010, but have been delayed by the Palestinian leadership -- not by Israel. The Palestinian inhabitants of East Jerusalem, for their part, have also voted in the Palestinian elections.
Similarly, the legal situation in the West Bank cannot simply be reduced to democracy or non-democracy. Palestinian law applies to those Palestinians living under Palestinian Authority auspices. In Israeli-controlled areas and for Palestinians arrested for security offenses, Israeli military law, based on British and Jordanian precedents, is enforced. Such a patchwork might confound any democracy, but Israel has endowed all Palestinians with the right to appeal directly to its Supreme Court. Palestinian villagers in the past have contested the location of Israel's security barrier, claiming it infringed on their land. Though the barrier has proven vital in protecting Israelis from terrorist attacks, the justices often found in the Palestinians' favor and ordered the fence moved. "One of the most unusual aspects of Israeli law is the rapid access that petitioners, including Palestinians, can gain to Israel's highest court," the New York Times observed in 2003, noting that even during periods of fierce fighting, "the high court was receiving and ruling on petitions almost daily."
The existence of partially democratic enclaves within a democratic system does not necessarily discredit it. Residents of Washington, D.C., are taxed without representation, while those in the U.S. territories -- Guam, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands -- cannot vote in presidential elections. Anomalies exist in every democracy, and Israel's is not voided by the situation in the West Bank. But because of its commitment to remaining a Jewish and democratic state, Israel is striving to end that aberration and resolve the century-long conflict with the Palestinians.
The solution is two states -- the Jewish state of Israel and the Palestinian state of Palestine -- living side by side in mutual recognition, security, and peace. Israel proffered offers for such an arrangement in 2000 and 2008, and withdrew both its military and civilian citizens from Gaza to enable the Palestinians to create a peaceful prototype state. Prime Minister Netanyahu has made the two-state solution the cornerstone of his diplomatic platform. Addressing a joint session of the U.S. Congress in 2011, he stressed Israel's willingness to take significant risks for peace and concede land sacred to Jews for millennia. For the first time, an Israeli prime minister publicly stated that "some [Israeli] settlements will end up beyond Israel's borders," and that "with creativity and with goodwill, a solution [for Jerusalem] can be found."
Of course, the Palestinians are not passive observers of this process. They have exercised their agency by rejecting Israel's multiple offers of independence. During their last elections, the majority of the Palestinian people voted for Hamas, a terrorist organization that is dedicated to Israel's destruction and has transformed Gaza into a terrorist mini-state. In recent years, Palestinian Authority leaders have balked at direct negotiations with Israel, preferring instead to seek independence unilaterally without making peace and pursue reconciliation with Hamas.
As impediments to peace, settlements pale beside those posed by Palestinian support for terror and the rejection of Israel's right to exist as a secure and legitimate Jewish state. Yet, in spite of all the disappointment and loss, Israelis still hope that the Palestinians will achieve sovereignty -- that they, too, will face the myriad challenges of maintaining a Middle Eastern democracy. And next door they will have a seasoned, dynamic model.