The Hour That Extends Over 13 Years

The Knesset decided on June 15, 2015, to further the Temporary Order – literally an “Order of the Hour” in Hebrew – as part of the Citizenship and Entry Law into Israel, which had originally been accepted in 2003. The order forbids Palestinians from the occupied territories to marry Israeli citizens (Palestinian citizens of Israel).

The background to the decision is known: since 1967 Israel has occupied the Palestinian population of the West Bank and Gaza. In 1993 the PLO chairman, Yasser Arafat, announced the organization’s recognition of the State of Israel and its readiness to forfeit the armed struggle against it, thereby creating a genuine path to ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Five years were afforded by the Interim Agreement signed in Oslo to formulate a permanent settlement between the two peoples. In the course of those five years prime minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated, a wave of terrorism from messianic and hyper-nationalist groups who opposed any compromise had swept over the land, Israeli settlements expanded rapidly in the heart of Palestinian territories, the new Israeli prime minister at the time – Benjamin Netanyahu – declared that he had successfully “blocked” the Oslo process, and the corrupted and cowardly leadership of Arafat led to the breakout of a second intifada.

That was a particularly murderous and immoral uprising, in the course of which it made perfect sense for the government to propose the Temporary Order. There was an immediate security need to separate the populations at any cost, also at the price of the love of Israeli citizens and those living under occupation. That need was reflected in the data provided by the Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service, that 40 percent of the attacks perpetrated against Israelis were committed by Palestinians who had entered Israeli territories following family reunions.

Since then the relations changed again. Mahmoud Abbas became president of the Palestinian Authority, and the intifada came to an end.

Although his leadership is full of deficits, especially the undemocratic conduct toward his own people, his credentials for security cooperation with Israel have been duly earned.

Maj.-General (res.) Amos Gilad, director of the Political-Military Affairs Bureau at the Defense Ministry, said, “We succeed in our war against terror thanks to the security ties we maintain with the Palestinians, and thanks to Abu Mazen’s [Abbas] opposition to terror.” Ever since, even Israel’s most right-wing foreign minister, Avigdor Liberman, could no longer accuse the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank of violence, and had to settle with fabricated notions such as “diplomatic terror” to divert criticism from Israel back to its enemy.

Still today, the starkest opposition to populist initiatives in the Israeli far Right comes from the senior officers of the IDF and the Shin Bet, who cherish the existing security cooperation.

This point is essential, considering the aforementioned Temporary Order was adopted because of the intifada.

Today Israel’s policy is increasingly similar to that which preceded the first intifada in 1987: Israeli and Palestinian leaders are making unspecific and general statements about negotiating peace “in the future,” and the Israeli government makes an occasional gesture to the Palestinians, such as recently permitting those over 50 years old to enter Israel without being vetted, or for some exports to come out of Gaza (these help in “containing” the situation on the ground, and in demonstrating Israel’s good will to Uncle Sam and the EU). However, it is crystal clear that so long as Netanyahu leads the government in Israel and Hamas does not rescind its powers in the Gaza Strip, there is no agreement that would end the occupation in sight. That conclusion is informed by the statements of the leaders themselves, as well as the experience of those governments thus far.

Had an independent Palestinian state been bilaterally established, its peace agreement would have regulated and detailed the subject of family unions, now under Temporary Order. Had it been established following a unilateral withdrawal, current hostilities might have persisted, but the current restriction of family unification would have been legitimized (just as Israelis can’t marry citizens of Iran or Saudi Arabia).

In the plenary discussion at the Knesset, Minister Silvan Shalom that the regional threats justify prolonging the Temporary Order. That is a peculiar argument. Compared with the security conditions of Israel in 2003, those of today are undoubtedly better. The second intifada is over and the Palestinian leadership rejects a third one, and since then the separation barrier between Israel and the Palestinian Authority has been nearly completed. Israel’s border with Jordan to the east is stable. From the north there is no longer a state that threatens with a war and Arab militias have been preoccupied with mutual destruction in a tragic civil war for the past four years. In the south, a border fence was completed and security coordination with Egypt has never been better. The one caveat is Israel’s border with the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, but that does not justify banning marriages of Israelis with the majority of Palestinians, living in the West Bank.

This might indicate that the opposition to marriages of Israeli citizens and Palestinians under occupation rather stems from the “demographic threat,” which is aggravated by those marriages. The demographic reality is indeed rapidly changing. The Central Bureau of Statistics published in April 2012 that out of the 12 million who live under Israeli rule, the number of Jews was only 5.9 million. Professor Sofer of Haifa University revealed that 130,000 Palestinians settled in Israeli towns between 1994 and 2003 as a result of marrying Israelis. In light of that, it is clear why 57 MKs voted in favor and only 20 opposed prolonging the Temporary Order.

However, separating populations may only be done between sovereign states – and not between populations within states. Furthermore, the format of decision-making via temporary orders is may be legitimate when dealing with pressing national security concerns, whereas national- cultural considerations regarding demography may only be determined through transparent, public, structured long-term legislation and government decision-making. The Temporary Order reflects a (legitimate) desire to maintain Israel secure with a Jewish character, but it is important to recall that while security matters may be temporarily addressed with such orders, larger “political questions are far too serious to be left to politicians” (in Hanna Arendt’s words) without proper deliberation in the public sphere.

Jürgen Habermas explains that for the will of the people to be realized, decisions must be made in a public sphere that is structured, free, critical and accessible to everyone who is subjected to those decisions. The reality of millions of Palestinian subjects, however, is designed without them being part of the public sphere. Only in such a situation can a 48 years old policy on the territories be referred to as temporary, and a Temporary Order – an “Order of the Hour” – extend into its 13th year.

This article was was first published in The Jerusalem Post.

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