If we ask people in the streets “Is Israel a democracy?”, it is most likely we will hear a unanimous answer: yes, it is. This is not only the self image of the Israeli public opinion, but also a very well accepted view of Israel within the international and even the Arab public opinion. However when we ask “Where is Israel”?, meaning what are the borders of Israel, surely we will not receive one answer, but rather a variety of imagined boundaries will be displayed, not only in the Arab and international public’s opinions, but especially among Israelis.
This is the factual basis of the paradox that has inspired this paper: while Israel is accepted for granted as a democratic State, its boundaries are contested and have never been recognized, not within Israel, and not in the international sphere. The paradox is that the concept of democracy refers to States with well-established and recognized boundaries. The starting point of democracy is the assumption that the State’s boundaries are given. The existence of fixed and internationally recognized boundaries is a precondition of democracy (Linz and Stepan, 1996, Chapter 2), and the reason is simple: in order to establish boundaries the democratic procedures are irrelevant. State boundaries are established by wars, colonial or international decisions, and not by elections and the legitimacy of the majority will.
In the absence of recognized boundaries it is impossible to determine who exactly are the sovereign people that have the civil and political rights to participate in the decision. In other words, the State and its territorial domain are a matter of violent coercion and not a question of the universal and equalitarian will of sovereign peoples. This distinction between the concrete territorial State and the historical construction of sovereign peoples is at the core of our theoretical interest.
Here is the basic insight that substantiates the theoretical argument suggested in this paper: the theories of democracy take for granted the nation-State, instead of formulating it as a puzzle, a potential contradiction. Democracy is interpreted here not as a set of procedures or as a substance, but as a dynamic process related to the contradictory appearance of nation-States, and the very idea of national sovereignty over the territory of the State. National sovereignty raises the question: “who are we, the people?”. National communities are imagined constructs, but States cannot just be imagined: they necessitate a concrete definition of boundaries, determining a territorial definition of the sovereign people.
This paper is part of a research project aiming to reframe the terms of reference to the Israeli-Palestinian relations and Israeli politics. This paper is dedicated to the understanding of the reshaping of the Israeli politics after peace was imagined. The process of concretization of peace faced similar obstacles and adversaries to the process of democratization. The phenomena to be explained here are both the stalemate of the peace process and internal Israeli politics, that are intimately related one to the other.
a. Democracy: a Process between Concrete States and Imagined Nations
Democracy is, according to these a process of bridging between the concrete form of the State and the imagined form of the people within its territorial boundaries. As a dynamic process, democracy is both imagined and concrete, or, more precisely, a constant process of concretization of imagined communities (Grinberg, in progress). It is partially a struggle over the definition of the nation, who are we, who is included and who is not? It is a struggle to open new political spaces to new identities by means of organization and claims to concretize collective and individual rights of groups, demanding to be recognized as a part of “the people”.
The most well known struggles of democratization are those that were maintained in order to include the working class and women as part of the sovereign people. More marginal and even neglected phenomena, are struggles based on other types of cleavages, mainly struggles of indigenous peoples, migrants, religious, ethnic, cultural or racial minorities (Mann, 1999). This neglect originated from the modernist view of democracy, that assumes the nation-State as a given and necessary stage of modernization, while religion, tradition, culture and other types of community attachments are usually interpreted as less relevant to the modern phenomena of democracy and nation-State formation (Chatterjee, 1993). Obviously this interpretation is originated by the Europocentric and colonialist view of the world development, and the imposition of the territorial organization of the world as States. In most of these cases, “the people” was determined by the externally imposed State boundaries, and democratic rule could not develop, the States were dominated by the external colonial power, local elites, or a combination of both.
Here is the linkage between democracy and peace: both are based on the assumption of international organization of the world in territorial States, the so-called “nation-States”. The difference is that peace between nation-States is substantially defined as a mutual recognition of boundaries between two parts, democracy takes them for granted as a precondition. This Europocentric, colonialist and modernist view of democracy and peace obviously led to the theory of stable peace among democracies (Mann, 2000). The Israeli case is one of the most salient examples of Europocentric and colonialist imposition of the State and its assumed nationality.
The amazing case of Israeli politics is its success in constructing itself as a democracy despite the absence of recognized concrete boundaries and comprehensive equal citizenship. This construction has been facilitated by the imagined maintenance of the pre-67 boundaries of the State mainly by means of a separated legal system and the discourse of “territories” (Kemp, 1992). This process took place parallel to the concrete erasure of boundaries by the expansion of settlements. This ambiguous definition of boundaries is necessary in order to maintain a virtually impossible political situation: the symbolic exclusion of Palestinian Arabs from the sovereign Jewish nation, and their practical inclusion in the concrete territorial boundaries of the State and expanded economy (Grinberg, 1999).
This impossible situation of a bi-national, non-democratic State that imagines itself as a democracy was a sophisticated reaction to the failure of the Zionist effort to create an exclusively Jewish State. This failure had two stages: the failure of a complete ethnic cleansing during the War in 1948 - when some 160,000 remained within the lines of the cease fire (Morris, 1987); and during the expansion of the State domains in 1967, which practically annexed to the Israeli domination system an additional million Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza (Kimmerling, 1989). The different historical contexts of inclusion have also determined the distinct civil and political status of the two Arab populations: the first were attributed citizen rights and discriminated by the definition of the State as Jewish, while the second were neglected civil and political rights, defined by their residence in the occupied territories. Both populations were under military rule: the citizens from 1948 until 1966, and the non-citizens since 1967.
Democracy in Israel is not only imagined, but the crucial point is that it cannot be concretized due to structural and institutional factors. All democracies are by definition imagined, but the imagined sovereign people must enter a dynamic process of inclusion in order to be concretized. This is a matter of changing power relations caused either by internal or external changes. Dominant elites accept the inclusionist principles of democracy only when they cannot continue ruling by authoritarian means. When structural or institutional barriers impede processes of concretization, the imagined democracy is also a fallacy, a tool of domination designed and manipulated by the dominant group in order to prevent access to power to the neglected groups.
b. Contradictory Procedures, Substance and Processes
The nature of the repressed and neglected groups varies from one State to another. In order to refer to a State as ruled by democratic processes the option to concretize collective and individual rights and claims must be considered legitimate and the procedures must be institutionalized. This is the reason that almost all the research on democracy and the process of democratization is dedicated to the institutional-procedural aspects of democratic regimes (Collier and Levitsky, 1997): the procedures are the conditions for actual concretization of the imagined democracy.
The problem is that the contradictions between the imagined people and the concrete State already exist in the procedural definitions of democracy, at the very moment that the national community is understood as a given and not as a social construct, a matter of political struggle. The principle of elections and majority vote and the principle of equal citizenship and protection of minority rights are contradictory if we acknowledge that most States are composed of varied cultural, ethnic or religious communities (Rothshild, 1981).
The classic struggles of democratization recognized by scholars are those of women and lower classes (Rueschemeyer, et al. 1992). The reason is that despite their structural weakness they are numerical majorities and they are included in the imagined nation. Michael Mann (1999, 2000) shows that democracy is not a guarantee to those excluded from the dominant national community, on the contrary, it may even produce worst results than authoritarian regimes.
Citizenship becomes the basic tool of struggle, because it facilitates a liberal definition of the nation. “We the people” based on the universalistic principle of citizenship is an inclusive political equalitarian principle, and not a cultural exclusionist one, like the imagined national community. Citizenship is indeed a crucial tool of concretization of the imagined democracy. However it is still limited because it facilitates the distinction between the liberal, individualistic definition of civil rights, and the communitarian, collectivist and nationalist definition of the nation (Peled, 1992). Freedom of organization and association, political parties and the civil society are tools to express collective identities, and not only the individual status guaranteed by universal citizenship.
Here is the place to make a clear Statement about the concept of imagined democracy. The concept is indeed based on Anderson’s (1991) “Imagined Communities” but it differs from it, basically in its passage from the nation to the State: at the level of the State democracy must be concrete. Communities - national, ethnic, gender, racial, political - are always imagined. Democracy facilitates the bridging between the imagined feature of collective communities and the concrete feature of States precisely because it is a process of concretization. The separated organization of civil society from the State, facilitated by the principles of free expression and organization, and the organization of parties as mediators between the civil society and the State, are the central means to transform imagined collective identities into concrete policies (Grinberg, in process).
Yet it is precisely due to this dynamic process of transformation that democracy can also be faked, a fallacy or illusion, a tool used by dominant elites (O’Donnell, 1996, Yiftachel, 1996, 2000): formal procedures may exist, but the dynamic process of concretization is prevented. In this sense, distinct from the national communities of Benedict Anderson, democracy is always imagined, but cannot be just imagined (Grinberg, in process). In order to open political spaces to new categories and communities it is necessary to imagine the sovereign people, “we the people”; it must provide equal citizenship to all, and all the procedural requisites. However this is not sufficient. What we need to ask is, if indeed every individual and group can practically make this image real, struggle and realize his or her rights.
The concept of imagined democracy is, in this sense, a critical theory of democracy. The concept does not define democracy as a formal set of institutions, rather it is a tool to criticize democratic States, regimes and policies, the actual power relations, the rights and options of organization and participation of dominated groups. We need a critical theory of democracy precisely because it can never be fully achieved, and it is always partial and limited. The concept helps criticize not only the regimes in the peripheries, where nation-States were externally imposed, but also the so-called “well established and full” democracies in the core of the European and North American nation-States.
Political processes of change necessitate imagination, but their concretization demands also political power, organization and leadership. Processes of democratization and peace are similar not only because they are part of the nation-State organization of the world, but also because they are political processes of change that necessitate both, imagination and concretization, by means of power struggles, mobilization, elite articulation and accorded institutional arrangements.
I will argue here that, due to the peculiar construction of the Israeli imagined democracy, that succeeded to include and exclude the Palestinian Arabs at the same time, the processes of democratization and peace are closely related one to the other. The need to open a political space to the Palestinians and to negotiate with them was at the core of the political process of concretization of peace and democracy. Due to a specific conjuncture that will be briefly analyzed in this paper, the peace process was reverted, and Israeli politics entered a stalemate. Peace remained just imagined, resembling the imagined Israeli democracy: everything that happens out of the Israeli imagined boundaries is neglected. This is the reason that the Palestinian State was already constructed in the minds of those expressing the Israeli public opinion, but not in the concrete Land of Palestine. The most important impact of the process was the reshaping of the internal Israeli politics, and the neglect of the concrete relations developed with the Palestinians.
c. The Construction of Mythological Politics
After the extension of the Israeli Military domains in June 1967 the political formations and agendas have radically changed. Previous class parties have been merged within two conglomerates of parties that included internal class contradictions but represented two competing self-images of the Israeli nation. The “Labor” conglomeration in Government (Maarach - Alignment) resembled a relatively moderate nationalism: the occupation was justified in terms of security, the new Lands were termed “administrated”, and the settler expansion and blurring of boundaries was done by the Labor affiliated cooperative movement of settlers in “security areas”, surrounding Palestinian dense populated areas (but not within them), and surrounding the unified and annexed Jerusalem. The “National” conglomeration (Likud - Unification) was more openly aggressive: they demanded the annexation of the West Bank and Gaza to Israel, being part of the promised Land of Israel, and rejected negotiations over withdrawals, supporting a massive movement towards the settlement of occupied Lands, disregarding Palestinian presence in those Lands.
Both conglomerates, the “left” and the “right” have constitutive myths that provide a coherent meaning to the past - during the struggle to build the nation-State and the “liberation” from British colonialism -, the present expansion of borders and the projected future. The myth of the “left” was security, and the myth of the “right” was the promised Lands of Eretz Israel. Both myths have their own national narrative, heroes and values that are above all: the military, officers and warriors are the core of the “left” myth, and settlers in the Palestinian inland are the core of the “right” myth.
One of the striking differences between both myths is that the majority of the Israelis, being recruited to the army, accept the security myth of the “left”, while the “right” myth of Eretz Israel, being the settlers a small minority, is particularistic. The common ground of both myths, that form the basis of the Jewish national consensus, is the exclusion of the Palestinian Arabs and the legitimization of the expanded boundaries of Israel. This common ground builds the Israeli imagined democracy: it is impossible to concretize because it excludes the Palestinian Arabs and it is based on the Jewish competition between the mythological “left” and “right”.
Despite their symbolic differences, the policies of both conglomerates were very similar, when in Government. Both maintained the legal distinction between the occupied areas and the boundaries of Israel before the 1967 War, and both rejected the policy of annexation. Both expanded the settlements, with differences only related to their location and amounts of money invested. Both rejected any negotiation with the PLO and excluded the Communist Party in Israel from the legitimate political space. Both contradicted their images while in Government. Notwithstanding their moderate image, the Maarach Government refused to negotiate a peaceful agreement based on withdrawal from the occupied Lands . The Likud Government started negotiations with Egypt based on Lands for Peace principle, immediately after their ascent to power, in spite of their elections campaign against the withdrawal from the Suez Canal by the Labor Government.
An additional similarity was that both conglomerated parties mobilized their constituencies not on the basis of the representation of goals, interests and policies, rather on the basis of symbols, images and myths of who are we (Shapiro, 1989, 1996). There was no real difference in the economic or social policies of both parties when they came to power, despite their opposed liberal and social-democratic images (Ben Porat, 1982; Grinberg, 1991). The interests of Jews were protected by the Jewish State and military, and the interests of capital and middle classes by the Treasury Minister and other State institutions (Shalev, 1992; Bichler, 1991, Grinberg, 1993). Democratic institutions were not the tool of interest fulfillment, nor were the parties, neither an active and autonomous civil society. The contribution to the nation-State and the military were the bases of social power and prestige (Helman, 1999b; Levy, 1997).
The peculiar exclusive State that neglects the legitimate political space of Palestinians combined with the constitutive myths of “left” and “right” established the basis for broad ideological cooperation among all the Jewish parties. The Jewish national consensus was formulated as three rejections: No to the withdrawal to the 4th of June borders, No to the recognition of the PLO, and No to the creation of a Palestinian State. The blurring of the borders of Israel and the rejection of a political space for the Palestinians was at the core of the Jewish national consensus. After seven years of disastrous policies of the new Likud Government (a rate of 400% inflation per year and the interminable Lebanon War) both parties created a National Unity Government (1984-1990), aiming to bail out the State from both crises. The national Unity coalition made evident both the broad common policies and goals, and the absence of any significant civil society differentiated from the penetrating nation-State that protects and privileges the Jews vis-a-vis the Arabs.
The catch appeared towards elections: if the conglomerates were so similar, the question was how could they mobilize electoral support in order to maintain their dominant status. Aiming to solve this problem, both conglomerates constructed a polarized dichotomy and hostile images of “we and them”, the collective image of the other was the neglect of “our own” collective identity, symbols, myths and values. The myths of both conglomerated parties competed on their historical contribution to building the nation as a basis to the claim: who will be able to continue building it in the future.
This political debate between the Israeli “left” and “right” obviously excluded the Arabs because it was a symbolic struggle over the proper Jewishness of the State. Yet, even more crucially, the “left-right” discourse occupied the whole political space, closing it to new political identities and demands among the Jews, based on new goals or interests. Everyone was mobilized to the “left-right” dichotomy that inspired hate, and even violence towards the other. The “monopolistic” status of Mapai before 1967 was replaced by the Likud-Maarach “cartel” that divided all the legitimate political space between the two parties that collaborated in neglecting any new identity.
Every citizen and political organization was demanded to identify with one or the other side of the polarized identities, de-legitimizing positions between or outside the two “camps”. The “camps” were mobilized by symbols and myths that defined the collective identity, however the concrete policies of the shared National Unity Government were considered irrelevant. New political framing had no space, even groupings that attempted to be “center parties”, according to a political, not mythological, logic, assuming that left-right is a spectrum of attitudes, were rejected or demanded immediately to identify with one the sides of the “cartel”.
The National Unity coalition agreement signed in 1984 by Likud and Maarach resembled all of the following features: it included 105 Knesset Members, it was an agreement between the “left” represented by the Maarach and the “right”, represented by the Likud. Small non-religious parties were identified with the “left” and signed a separate agreement with Maarach. Religious parties were identified with the “right” and signed a separate agreement with Likud. And the most striking symbol of the double-headed cartel-Government was that also the role of Prime Minister was shared, by a rotation agreement.
In order to understand how these mythological dichotomy identities succeeded in mobilizing and occupying the whole Jewish political space, it is important to note not only their historical path in building the nation and the State structures that separate Jews from Arabs, but also the fact that the sides covered all the internal cleavages among Jews: class, ethnicity and religion. The subtext of the “left” myths and symbols appealed to secular European upper and middle classes, while the “right” appealed to traditional and religious Mizrachi lower classes. These became the “traditional” supporters of “left” and “right”.
All the research on political attitudes shows the clear correlation between class, ethnicity, religiosity, and even peripheriality and education to the mythological “left-right” dichotomy (Arian, 1986, 1990; Diskin, 1991). This correlation explains both the background of the high levels of hostility, and the difficulty to open new political spaces and new identities, already mobilized in one way or another by the “left-right” dichotomy. The crucial point is that these identities did not lead to any specific alternative policy, and that the mythological identities also prevented public debates on policy-making related to concrete issues, including those relevant to the images of the “camps”, i.e. religion, class and ethnicity.
d. Intifada, New Agendas and Democratization
The most significant identity excluded from the legitimate political space of the Jewish “left-right” were the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, and they were their direct victims. They were under military occupation and had been denied citizenship, and civil and political rights of organization. The combination of the expulsion of the PLO from Beirut in September 1982, and the formation of the National Unity Government in 1984, that legitimized the continued expansion of Jewish settlements, created an atmosphere of despair among the Palestinians, lacking any viable strategy to defend their lands and to advance their collective goals (Kimmerling and Migdal, 1993).
This was the historical context of the Palestinian mass mobilization supporting the Intifada, which for the first time designed an effective strategy of resistance against the sophisticated Israeli imagined democracy. The Intifada succeeded in mobilizing the Palestinians in a form that was interpreted by the international public opinion, as a legitimate method of struggle due to its features of popular civil disobedience. The Intifada unmasked Israeli military occupation hidden by the imagined democratic facade. Moreover, Israeli public opinion itself widely recognized the legitimacy of the civil revolt of the Palestinians, precisely because it did not appear as a terrorist threat, neutralizing the security myth that de-legitimized Palestinian demands. The Intifada was, from the perspective proposed here, the first step in the democratization of Jewish-Arab relations, a pre-condition for the peace process.
The first and most important effect of the Intifada was the demarcation of Israeli borders in distinguishing between the occupied territories in the West Bank and Gaza, and the borders of Israel before June 4, 1967. This demarcation did not mean that all actions of protest were located only in the West Bank and Gaza, but clearly the popular revolt was centered there, and only individual violent attacks penetrated the 1967 borders. In response the Israeli Governments reacted with closures (seguer) of the pre-1967 borders. Now the security logic appeared as opposed to territorial expansion and blurred borders: it meant drawing borders and closing them. The Intifada and the Israeli reaction of closures concluded the “ideological” debate over the “nature” of the occupied territories, and a new consensus “naked” name appeared: just “territories”, without adjectives (shtachim). Even the settler organizations sought to hide the mythological debate over the religious meaning of the promised Eretz Israel by using a technical-bureaucratic term produced by the military (Yesha).
The second effect of the Intifada was the differentiation between the State and civil society. The Palestinians, denied civil and political rights to organize, have developed a dense web of organizations and movements of students, women, workers and youth, autonomous from the Israeli state (Nasser and Heacock, 1990; Tamari, 1991). The meaning of Intifada is to remove the Israeli apparatus that penetrated the Palestinian society. This is precisely the source and goal of civil society in democratization processes: the demarcation of the limits between State and society based on the autonomous organization of the latter. While the Jewish State neutralized any form of autonomous civil society among the Jews, by means of national and military mobilization (Ben Eliezer, 1993), the domination of the Palestinian society was exercised by externally imposed means (mainly economic and military). This distinction made the Palestinians in the “territories” the first challengers of the Jewish nation-State penetration, and the pioneers of an autonomous civil society in Israel/Palestine. Yet at the very moment the Intifada was initiated it facilitated the development of the first formation of autonomous civil society among the Jewish population too (Ezrachi, 1996; Gal, 1990).
The third effect of the Intifada was the revision carried out by the military elites which led to the conclusion that they would not be able to continue ruling the Palestinians only by violent means. This was the bureaucratic rational reached by an organization expected to accomplish a goal that it is unable to pursue. The reason that the violent means became inefficient was directly related to the imagined democracy: the demarcation of the borders of Israel, and the self-image of Israel as a democracy, delegitimized the use of extreme military force in order to repress and maintain the military rule of a civil population.
The Israeli media reports of violent repression, the critics of intellectuals combined with reserve soldiers’ refusal and protest against their repression tasks, together transformed the military violent repression of an illegitimate goal. The political spokesman of the military view was the Minister of Defense, Yitzchak Rabin. He claimed that “there are no military means” to treat the Intifada, and that there is a need to find a political solution. He also argued that the Intifada may have a positive effect, in the emergence of moderate leadership in the territories, that the Israeli Government would be able to negotiate with.
Here we have three crucial elements that when combined, have eventually initiated a process of democratization: the demarcation of the legitimate borders of Israel, the distinction between Jewish State institutions and the Jewish-Arab civil society, and the military acknowledgment that they need to cooperate with political leaders of the occupied population in order to control the situation, and not only to repress it. All these events occurred at a very supportive international atmosphere of globalization created by the fall of the Berlin Wall and the GATT agreements, in 1989, that transformed military occupation into an old-fashioned and unnecessary tool of domination (Shafir and Peled, 2000; Murphy, 1996; Peres, 1993).
This new situation was the contextual conjuncture that facilitated a democratic political transformation. The shift started when a group of young leaders in the Labor party came to the conclusion that the joint National Unity Government was the main obstacle to new policies towards the Palestinians. At that moment they found a relatively new religious party that was interested in using the conjuncture to break up the paralyzing mythological construction of “right-left” politics. This was a new Sephardic religious party (Shas) that sought to mobilize support not only on the basis of given religious communities, but also on the traditionalist views of Oriental Jews and their repressed feelings of social and economic discrimination (Peled, 1998). Shas was classified by the mythological dichotomy as a “right” party in the National Unity Government, notwithstanding their support of a territorial compromise for peace. The political dialogue between the young Labor leaders and the new Sephardic leadership made possible in 1990 an attempt to form a new Government on a political (non mythological) basis, supporting peaceful negotiations with Arabs. The projected Government was expected to be led by the Labor party based on the same Knesset elected in 1988, without the Likud, yet including Shas.
The attempted “putsch” failed , but it produced several effects that were crucial to continue the process of democratization initiated by the Intifada: a. the Labor Party was forced to leave the Government and started to develop a critical discourse towards the Likud policies from a perspective that recognized the political rights of the Palestinians, and appeared as an alternative to the “national consensus” discourse and policies; b. a non-partisan movement of protest was organized after the “1990 fiasco” demanding structural reforms of the whole political system, that was interpreted as the cause of political corruption ; c. in order to represent the new critical atmosphere, the Labor Party reformed its own procedures of leaders’ elections, implementing for the first time American styled primaries for both Knesset candidates and Prime Minister; d. the claims of the Labor Party were updated, not only demanding a pragmatic and non-mythological treatment of the Intifada, but also claiming a new agenda of social and economic issues, such as health, education, unemployment and transportation problems under the slogan “a new order of priorities”.
All these changes were leading, either intentionally or not, towards the deconstruction of the mythological mobilization of the “left” and “right” collective identities. Indeed in the 1992 elections the “left-right” dichotomy disappeared, and a new division between pragmatic and mythological discourses emerged. Public opinion supported pragmatism: the parties that represented the myth of the big Eretz Israel shrunk or even disappeared. The parties that presented peaceful negotiations with the Palestinians expanded their power, yet the “pragmatist” parties of the right, suggesting more repression and even expulsion of Palestinians, grew as well. For the first time since 1977 the Jewish “left” parties could block a “right” wing coalition, and were able to form their own majority Government, supported by the parties elected by Palestinian citizens. In addition, for the first time the Labor Party promised a strong commitment to pursue a peace agreement with the Palestinians before the next elections. The additional support of Shas enabled the establishment of a majority coalition of 62 KMs, in addition to 5 KMs who supported the peace moves but did not become a part of the coalition.
The political process between 1988-1992 showed the dynamic meaning of imagined democracy: the fact that people believed that Israel is a democracy was crucial in the mobilization and organization of a new political agenda, in the changing role of the military, and in the opening of a political space for the Palestinians, both in the occupied territories and in Israel. Not only was the image of Israel as a democracy necessary, but also the institutions of free media, freedom of organization, democratic parties and majority vote as a legitimate tool to change policies were crucial. In addition to the image and the institutions, the political organization and mobilization were fundamental to the political change, but all this, as we will see in the next sections, were not sufficient to concretize the imagined democracy and imagined peace.
e. The Oslo Process: Rabin’s Centralized Rule
If the Israeli democracy could be reimagined as a result of the Palestinian Intifada and initiated a process of concretization, the 1992 elections enabled the imagination of peace. The transformation of Israeli politics and agendas within the 1967 borders also demarcated the terms of the peaceful solution: the opening of a political space for the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. At the moment the borders of the democratic Israel were delineated, the borders of the Palestinian space became clear as well, and this facilitated the imagined peace. Obviously the political distance between the imagined peace and the concrete peace is similar to the distance between the imagined democracy and its concretization: only the political power struggle determines the direction and the outcome of the process.
The success of political transformations facilitated by favorable institutions and conjunctures depends on the capacity of political leadership to articulate, synchronize and coordinate the different forces, interests and identities supporting the process and defeating their opponents. Democratic procedures facilitate the articulation between leadership and social forces by means of competing political parties, open public debates, free organization, and elections. The paradox of democratization is that it needs to install the procedures that will facilitate the articulation of democratic groups in the future, however it works under difficult conditions, because the legitimate democratic institutions are still absent. Leadership, pacts, coalitions and obstructions are the crucial factors in democratization processes (O’Donnell and Schmitter, 1986; Linz and Stepan, 1996), yet legitimate rules of the game and institutions that still need to be established are not.
Juan Linz formulated the paradox that democratic institutions are initially installed by non-democratic means. This paradox is applicable to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, yet with a slight variation. According to the peculiarities of the imagined democracy: formal procedures to elect a new Government within the pre-1967 borders were well institutionalized and legitimate, but the opening of a concrete, political space for the Palestinians and the transformation of their excluded status was still illegitimate, and no stable, independent structures or institutions were at work in the “territories”. Even meetings with PLO activists were outlawed, and the participation of Arab citizens in the Government was also delegitimized in the Jewish national consensus. The argument against Rabin’s authority to negotiate a peaceful solution was that he had no democratic mandate to change the borders of Israel, and that it was illegitimate to rely on the support of Palestinian citizens in order to yield Lands of Israel that belong to the Jewish people.
Rabin was aware of his historical responsibility in leading the process and constructing its legitimacy from the very beginning. In his first Statement after the elections he declared that he would be a solist leader, and that only he would decide the path, the rhythm and the terms of the process (Newspapers, June 23, 1992). In his own trajectory and ascent to power he succeeded in articulating three political forces that were the bearers of the democratization and peace process: the upper and middle classes seeking integration in the global economy, the young leaders of the Labor party seeking a renewed and reformed party able to represent their constituencies, and the military elites seeking to end their police tasks against civilian population (Shafir, 1996; Shafir and Peled, 2000; Grinberg, 1994).
This articulation was enabled by Rabin’s leadership, however the Labor Party was still identified with the old mythological dichotomy. Rabin was not identified as a “leftist”, but his party was. In order to escape this image, the electoral campaign emphasized Rabin’s personal attributes and security background, and not his party. . Rabin won the elections in spite of his Party, and this was one of the reasons that pushed him to support a new Law for direct elections for the Prime Minister which was implemented for the first time in 1996, when he was unable to participate...
Two big obstacles stood behind the process: a. the mythological “left-right” discourse that rejected the Palestinian space - PLO leadership, Palestinian State and withdrawal to the pre-1967 borders; b. the concrete forms of Israeli domination of Palestinians, namely, military rule, economic dependency and territorial penetration (Jewish settlements). Being the economic and military elites principal supporters of the process, they were given authority to control the process in their own spheres. The settlements located within the dense populated Palestinian areas , and their mythological ideology were publicly de-legitimized and criticized by Rabin, but were not actually removed.
This policy was not just related to the political attitudes of the actors, who were namely Rabin’s supporters (military and business), and opponents (Jewish settlers), rather to a more complex aspect of the peace process: its potential contradiction between de-colonization and democratization, exclusion and inclusion. The Israeli-Palestinian peace process is characterized by the need to democratize the relations between Jews and Arabs and to dismantle the colonial structures of domination (Grinberg, 1994). This peculiar process was determined by the original conditions of imagined democracy, while the latter meant Palestinian exclusion from the political space and their inclusion in the Israeli economic and territorial domains; peace meant the opposite - Palestinian inclusion in a legitimate political space and their exclusion from Israeli economic and territorial domains.
From the “leftist” point of view, dismantling of the colonial apparatus before reaching an agreement was interpreted as dangerous, according to the security myth, because there was a threat of losing Israeli control of Palestinian terrorists. The advantage of the Israeli Government was, obviously, that it had the power to control the Palestinians and establish the rhythm of the process. In order to control the process and avoid its dangers, Rabin constructed it mainly as a democratization process between ruling Israeli elites and ruled Palestinian moderates, opening a legitimate space for them. The dismantling of colonial structures was postponed until the final agreement negotiations.
This political design of Oslo resembles transition processes to democracy, controlled by moderate elites of rulers and ruled, obstructed by extremists on both sides (Schmitter and O’Donnel, 1986). In these processes the capacity of the moderate elites to reach pacts and agreements between them, to mobilize their constituencies and to neutralize their opponents is crucial, mainly due to the absence of legitimate rules of the game and institutionalized procedures of decision making. This was the situation in the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.
The new discourse legitimizing the Palestinian supporters of peace, and de-legitimizing the Jewish extremists as enemies of peace, was Rabin’s core political effort, made mainly by him. My argument is, that the peace process remained only imagined, but the actual concretization by dismantling the colonial structures never commenced. This does not mean that Rabin had no intention of dismantling, rather that processes of concretization, changing structures and building new institutions, require more time than he actually had. The process was initiated by legitimizing the Palestinians and establishing Israeli control of the process. I have argued elsewhere (Grinberg, 1994, pp. 80-81) that even if Rabin had no intention of creating a Palestinian State, he did enter into a process of negotiations and compromises that in order to remain in power, he would have to compromise with the moderate Palestinians elites. The problem was not only that he had no time, but also that there was no new discourse, political organization or mobilization that could continue the process after him. He took a very centralized lead due not only to his personal tendencies, but mainly because there were no legitimate political organizations and discourses capable of legitimizing the process in a more democratic, participationist and mobilized way.
Rabin supporters were articulated only by him, and his policy shows clearly that he attributed primary importance to changing the image of the Palestinians, and maintaining the Israeli concrete control. The negotiation features reveal the different roles attributed by Rabin to the three elites supporting him: the young Labor leaders were crucial in the breakthrough of the negotiations, by formulating the initial declaration of principles that basically established the mutual recognition of Israel and PLO, after secret negotiations, the Oslo Agreement signed in September 1993 (Beilin, 1999; Savir, 1998). The military and economic elites were central in the concrete agreements that implemented the declaration of principles mainly in the territorial-military “Cairo agreements” and the economic “Paris agreement”. These agreements maintained during the “interim period” constituted the Israeli apparatus of domination and Palestinian subordination: former economic dependency was legitimized by the Paris agreements, Palestinian security forces were committed to collaborate with Israeli forces against terror, and Israel did not compromise to halt the expansion of Jewish settlements. The Palestinians were promised control of cities and the establishment of national institutions (Savir, 1998; Elmusa and El-Jaafari, 1995).
The most striking feature of the negotiation process was that it took place with hardly any political critic or public debate. The fact that the Israeli military became the political negotiator with the Palestinians was almost taken for granted, and the economic terms of the Paris agreements that continued the Palestinian dependency were also a non-issue of Israeli public domain. The Israeli settlers and their political supporters concentrated their struggle mainly against the “concessions” to the Palestinians, using both the mythology of Eretz Israel and security. In addition they directly attacked Yitzchak Rabin. Rabin’s political supporters gave him almost complete credit to lead, without critic or debate. Even his request from peace supporters to avoid mass demonstration against the extremist resistance was accepted. Peace supporters acted as though they were completely convinced that without Rabin’s centralized lead the process would be orphaned. A-posteriori we can argue that they probably understood why
f. Between Mythological Politics and New Agendas
While the Oslo agreements were still far from concretizing peace, it was very easy to imagine it. One of the most crucial and long-range impacts of the Oslo process was not so much the democratization of Israeli-Palestinian relations, rather the democratization of internal Israeli politics. The minute peace was imagined, Israeli imagined democracy started to concretize. New identities and organizations were created. In other words, the old mythological politics were irrelevant, and new post-conflict agendas were expected to emerge, and individual entrepreneurs and political elites were seeking to take the lead in the process.
The process of setting new agendas, identities and organizations began almost immediately after the signing of the Oslo agreements. In November 1993 municipal elections took place and new alliances, crossing left-wing were formed Towards May 1994 the Histadrut elections enabled the formation of a very original bloc of Parties that won the elections against the Labor Party (for the first time in 74 years !! since it had been established). The winning bloc included the two minority coalition parties that constituted Rabin’s coalition under the leadership of young leaders of the Labor party (and well known as Rabin supporters) that decided to abandon their Party. These leaders viewed the old apparatus of the Histadrut as one of the most obsolete and responsible for the old image of the Labor party and conservative structures (Grinberg and Shafir, 2000). In 1995 a very well known leader of Likud (David Levy) split off and formed his own party (Gesher) based on a social platform and supporting the peace negotiations (Ben Simon, 1997). These were all initial steps towards the 1996 elections, expected to be different from the former due to two crucial changes: the new post-Oslo agenda of economic, social and cultural issues, and the new Law for direct elections for Prime Minister that gave voters the option to split their vote.
Here is the central contradiction of the peace process through Israeli democratization: it was easier to concretize within Israel than in the territories. Within Israel there were already legitimate democratic institutions, in the territories there were imposed colonial structures, and no legitimate democratic institutions. But the internal democratization of Israel was only possible due to the imagined peace, because it opened the political space to new discourses, new identities and new organizations.
It is reasonable to assume that the Palestinian elites entered the Oslo process because they had no other alternative options, and they believed that the process could advance the dismantling of Israeli occupation. Indeed, the process had a potential to reach the goal of peaceful relations between two sovereign States. Rabin dedicated all his political efforts to reconstructing the Israeli discourse of Palestinians, changing their image from a dangerous enemy into an actual partner and potential friend. He did so by claiming that Arafat and his supporters were honest and fair partners genuinely seeking peace. In addition he advocated the right of the Palestinian citizens of Israel to be part of the internal political process of decision making, mainly because they were one of the bearers of his Government.
The emergence of new organizations, coalitions and agendas, combined with the legitimization of the Palestinian space were Rabin’s most significant success. Despite attempts of the Islamic military organizations to obstruct the process by violent attacks, the Israeli resistance to the process failed to mobilize the majority of the “right” electorate. Demonstrations against agreements and withdrawals instead of being more massive became significantly more aggressive and violent, rejecting the Government’s mandate to negotiate and attacking Rabin personally. Rabin was de-humanized as a traitor, serving Arafat, initially appearing on a poster with an Arab kafia and finally with the SS Nazi uniform. (Ben Simon, 1997; Kapeliouk, 1996)
Rabin’s assassination was the climax of aggressive agitation against him personally and against the democratic authority to compromise with the Palestinians. The struggle was against both democratic decisions of the Government and against peace. Symbolically Rabin was assassinated immediately following a mass demonstration supporting peace and against the violent attacks of its opponents, Jewish settlers and Islamic terrorists. This was the first time that Rabin allowed a mass demonstration supporting peace.
According to the analysis proposed here, Rabin had rejected mobilizations supporting peace because he feared they might deteriorate into the mythological “left-right” divide. His success since 1992 was in preventing the mythological polarization. At the end of October 1995 the political evaluation was that the popular support of the peace process was wide enough to bring the masses together in a demonstration. Among the crowd were not only “old fashioned” “left” supporters, but also Likud voters and Palestinian citizens of Israel. This was the clearest manifestation that the struggle for peace and democracy had been unified. The murderer’s bullets aimed to kill both the peace process and its democratic massive support.
I discuss elsewhere (Grinberg, forthcoming) in detail the reversal of peace following the assassination. The important points to be emphasized here are three: a. when Rabin was assassinated the Israeli apparatus of domination was not yet dismantled, and had all the power to maintain its rule over Palestinians; b. the new agendas, identities and politics that emerged as a result of the imagined peace did not yet have the opportunity to be institutionalized by participation in national elections; c. Rabin’s political articulation of young Labor leaders, military and economic elites was centralist, and had no successor.
The immediate meaning of the assassination was the return to the mythological “left-right” dichotomy and polarized division, and the marginalization of post-Oslo agendas. Instead of struggles between Israeli-Palestinian supporters of peace and its opponents, the Palestinians returned to their pre-Oslo neglected position. The struggle was again just between the Jews, about the proper national leadership for rebuilding the Jewish consensus, aiming to prevent further deterioration of internal relations between the Jews.
All the leaders that had split off from their original Labor and Likud parties decided to return, postponing their struggles for new agendas in the context of the “emergency” times. Old politics were violently restored, but the new agendas, already imagined due to the imagined peace, could not be completely repressed. As we will see in the next chapter, the new Law of direct election of PM was the facilitator of the dual agenda, old and new, and magnified the political stalemate created by the assassination.