The decline of Israeli sovereignty
by Jonathan Rosenblum
January 26, 2004
When President Bush declared in his State of the Union address, "when we have to take action to defend this country, we will not wait until we received a permission slip from some outside authority," the entire Congress, Democrats and Republicans alike, stood to applaud. That reaction places the United States firmly on one side of the debate within what used to be called the Western alliance. On the one side are those who continue to see the nation-state as the proper locus of sovereignty; on the other, those – mostly Europeans -- who view supranational bureaucracies as the best protection against rampant nationalism.
Both history and present circumstances should place Israel firmly on the American side of this debate. Jean Bodin, the 16th century French jurist and first great theoretician of sovereignty, has long been suspected of Jewish roots due to his prolific use of illustrations and prooftexts from the Talmud. For millennia Jews have carefully nourished their sense of themselves as a distinct people, and if they ever forgot that distinction, their neighbors were quick to remind them. That sense of distinctiveness caused them to long for a return to a national homeland.
Political Zionism, with its language of Jews becoming masters of their own fate, merely appropriated what University of Chicago professor Mark Lilla calls the core concept of sovereignty: "the notion of autonomy, which in political terms means he capacity to defend oneself. . . "
That insistence on the right to defend oneself constitutes an important ingredient of the glue binding Israel and the United States. Henry Kissinger writes in The Years of Upheaval that European allies could never understand the American solicitude for Israeli sovereignty. For them, the fact that America "had the power to force Israel to do [its] bidding" was sufficient to justify its doing so.
Today Israel has even more at stake in upholding the principle of sovereignty than the United States, for unlike the United States it cannot simply thumb its nose at those seeking to limit its ability to protect its own citizens. Despite this, appreciation of the importance of national sovereignty is rapidly declining in Israel.
The failure of the Israeli Left to react with outrage to Yossi Beilin’s Geneva Initiative is but the clearest example. Not only did Beilin circumvent the democratically elected officials of his own country, but he did so while in the employ of the European Union, whose bureaucrats’ hostility to both Israel, in particular, and to national sovereignty, in general, is well documented.
Similarly, the calls by Meretz for international observers to be stationed between Israel and the Palestinians are little more than pleas for the international community to tie our hands. Those observers would never observe the laboratories in which the suicide bombers’ vests are prepared, but only Israel’s response to their successful detonation.
Attorney-General Edna Arbel’s leaked statement to the cabinet this week that she would have difficulty defending the current route of the security fence before the High Court or in the Hague passed almost without notice. It should have raised alarums.
Arbel displays the same attitude towards the political echelons that EU bureaucrats show to European parliaments and Israeli Supreme Court justices to the Knesset: She knows better. Yet it is for the government, not Arbel, to determine the security needs of Israeli citizens and to balance them against Palestinian suffering.
Sovereign nations have a duty to protect the lives of their citizens, and to value those lives over all others. In Israel’s case, that includes the lives of citizens living on the West Bank. No doubt the security fence, like checkpoints and closures, imposes hardships on Palestinians. Those hardships, however, are reversible through the end of incitement and terror; the loss of life or limb to a suicide bomber is not.
When Israel’s elites themselves evince so little appreciation of the implications of sovereignty, we can hardly expect other nations to be more solicitous of our sovereignty.
Related Topics: Israeli Supreme Court, Peace Process
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