YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


Withdrawal From Gaza Will Test Israeli Democracy

August 18, 2004|Uri Dromi | Uri Dromi is the director of international outreach at the Israel Democracy Institute in Jerusalem.

True to his fighting tradition, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon remains determined to push ahead his plan to pull out of Gaza.

His is not an easy task. The settlers and their supporters are resolved to foil his plan. Most recently, they created a human chain, stretching from Gaza to Jerusalem, and they are now planning more protest actions.

All this is understandable and legitimate, but eventually, in Israel as in any other democracy, a duly elected government should be able to carry out its decisions as long as they are not illegal or fundamentally immoral.

The resistance to the pullout plan is more than just a legitimate political action; behind it lies a challenge to the very core of Israeli democracy.

There is a group of Israelis who -- regardless of any government or Knesset decision on evacuation of the settlements and regardless of the popular support for withdrawal -- have vowed that they won't allow the pullout from Gaza to happen; these are the die-hard ideological settlers.

At stake is not only the future of the settlements, it's the future of Israel's democracy. Sharon's plan to pull out of Gaza is actually about the ability of Israel to turn the will of the people into political action in a democratic way. The execution of the plan will determine whether the Israeli democracy is still a functional one, or a democracy in name only, incapable of implementing its most important decisions because veto power has been surrendered to a few extremists.

How will the settlers react when it comes time to evacuate them? According to a survey conducted recently by the Israel Democracy Institute, a Jerusalem-based think tank, the vast majority will protest and use all means of legitimate resistance but will ultimately yield to the democratic imperative.

However, the study warns of a small group of radical settlers -- many of whom are young and rebellious -- who might engage in a civil revolt, including damaging the equipment of the removal forces. Even more dangerous are those few among them who are capable of opening fire on the soldiers who come to evacuate them or of initiating preemptive terrorist actions, mainly against Arabs, to create havoc and disrupt the evacuation process.

Indeed, Public Security Minister Tzachi Hanegbi warned two weeks ago that Jewish extremists were planning a terror attack against Temple Mount, including use of airplane drones to blow up the Al Aqsa Mosque. The logic behind this is that, with the mayhem that would engulf the region if such a plan was carried out, all ideas about evacuation would be dropped.

In the same vein, the director of the Israeli secret services has warned of an attempt on the life of the prime minister. This is not a hypothetical threat: In November 1995, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated by Yigal Amir, who believed he had the tacit support of radical rabbis. These fanatics had ruled that regardless of what a duly elected government had decided, giving away pieces of the land of Israel was a sin deserving death.

So when Sharon stands up to the historic challenge of fulfilling the Israeli will to pull out of Gaza, people from all walks of political life in Israel should support him. The show of force for democracy should surpass any demonstration against it.

Israelis vitally need a working democratic mechanism because Gaza is only the beginning: When it comes to the West Bank -- more densely populated and closer to the heart of Israelis -- their elected government will have to take and carry out much more painful decisions.

Los Angeles Times Articles