respect the knesset's (israeli parliament) vote

  1. 237 Posts.
    Oct. 25, 2004 22:09 | Updated Oct. 25, 2004 23:23
    Respect the Knesset's (Israeli Parliament) vote

    Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.
    John Adams, 1814

    The founders of the United States distrusted democracy and created a complex system of "checks and balances" that is a compromise with the strict principle of majority rule. What they created has, pace Adams, lasted over 200 years and has entered this century the strongest, richest, and among the most vibrant nations on the planet.

    We are rightly proud of our own, much younger, more embattled democracy. It has been severely tested by the struggle to survive and has, on balance, passed with flying colors. We are, by many measures, stronger and more successful than we have ever been, despite the ongoing desire in our neighborhood to wipe us off the map. We tolerate a range of debate that would be striking even in a country that is not, at this very moment, under vicious physical and diplomatic attack. Our Supreme Court is not only independent, but unusually so.

    True, sometimes, especially for those among us who come from more established democracies, democratic norms seem to be fragile, perhaps skin-deep. The raucous culture of debate can at once be seen as hyper-democratic and barely so. The fragility of these norms can also be seen in the tendency to throw around concepts like democracy and the rule of law like epithets, depending less on principle than on whose ox is being gored.

    We see this tendency particularly starkly in the context of the current debate over disengagement. Both sides wrap themselves in the flags of democracy and law. There are times, however, when all the rhetoric must fall by the wayside, brushed away by a pure test of democratic mettle. Today's vote, and the coming battle over its interpretation, will be one of those times.

    This newspaper has, like much of the nation, been reluctantly supportive of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's disengagement plan. It is no one's first choice, certainly not ours. But our point today is not to instruct the Knesset how to vote but something more important: a plea to respect the results.

    In our system of government, we elect a Knesset to represent the people. It is the Knesset, not opinion polls and not the government, that ultimately has the responsibility to reject or affirm fundamental policies. Referenda are also legitimate mechanisms to do this in some countries, but Israel has no law providing for them. The lack of a referendum does not make the Knesset's decision any less legitimate.

    We recognize that, perhaps because of Sharon's own decision to spurn a referendum and his failure to win a vote he called on the issue in his own party, a difficult and dangerous situation has arisen. Now, both sides of the debate will, whatever the Knesset vote, claim they represent the true majority of Israelis. It is in precisely this context that our democracy is being put to one of its toughest tests.

    Though it may be easy to forget, given how much time the Knesset seems to spend on debating no-confidence votes, our parliament was elected for a higher purpose than generating headaches for the prime minister. We elect our representatives to represent us. The Knesset does not perfectly represent the popular will, but it is not supposed to; we also expect our parliamentarians to exercise a degree of judgment, and we exercise the right to oust them at the end of their terms if we feel they have failed us.

    Assuming that his plan is affirmed by the Knesset today, the prime minister will still bear the burden of implementing it in a way that does not tear the country apart. In his speech opening the debate in the Knesset yesterday, Sharon did express both admiration and criticism of the Israeli citizens his plan would evacuate, and he spoke of the "heavy" responsibilities he bears. But Sharon's responsibility to build support for the government's plan is not the only, or even the primary requirement for preserving our democracy. The true test of our democracy falls on all of us, and begins with accepting the full legitimacy of this, and all other, decisions of our sovereign parliament.

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