Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Analysis: Is Israel Democratic? Not So Clear

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Analysis: Is Israel Democratic? Not So Clear

Article excerpt

JERUSALEM * Is Israel a democracy? The answer is not so straightforward, and it increasingly matters given the diplomatic fallout over hard-liner Benjamin Netanyahu's re-election last week.

The displeasure felt in some quarters over his win has placed front and center the world community's unwritten obligation to accept the results of a truly democratic vote. It is a basic tenet of the modern order which has survived the occasional awkward election result as well as recent decades' emergence of some less- than-pristine democracies around the globe.

For Israel, the argument is especially piquant, because its claim to be the only true democracy in the Middle East has been key to its branding and its vitally important claim on U.S. military, diplomatic and financial support. Israel's elections, from campaign rules to vote counts, are indeed not suspect.

But with the occupation of the West Bank grinding on toward the half-century mark, and with Netanyahu's election day suggestion that no change is imminent, hard questions arise.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., reflected the traditional appreciation of Israel when he advised President Barack Obama to "get over it" a reference to reports that the U.S. was reassessing relations with Israel in the wake of the result. McCain told CNN that "there was a free and fair democratic election" in Israel "the only nation in the region that will have such a thing."

But among Israelis themselves, there is increasing angst over the fact that their country of 8 million people also controls about 2.5 million West Bank Palestinians who have no voting rights for its parliament.

If the 2 million Palestinians of Gaza a territory dominated indirectly by Israel were added to the equation, then together with the 2 million Arab citizens of "Israel proper," the Holy Land would be home to a population of about 12 million, equally divided between Arabs and Jews.

Of the Arabs, only a third have voting rights. These are the "Israeli Arabs" who live in the areas that became Israel in the 1948- 49 war, which established the country's borders.

Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza in 1967, but Israel never annexed them, for fear of world reaction and because of concern about millions more Palestinians' gaining the vote. …

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