Yair Lapid now knows that he can’t please all of the people all of the time. That’s what happens when decision-making replaces storytelling. That’s what happens when an unaccountable columnist becomes a scrutinized finance minister that needs to submit a prioritized budget. In a budget that called for cuts, Lapid had the choice of confronting corrupt union leaders or humiliating unemployed housewives and hard working middle class. He chose the latter, leaving the brunt of the new budget to be borne by 'Riki Cohen' and people of her social standing.
However, beyond the merits of Lapid’s budget, his most puzzling decision this week had nothing to do with budget or finance. It concerned national unity and Lapid’s bogus decision to refuse the backing of a referendum bill - a referendum intended to ratify Israel’s final borders once such demarcation is made possible.
Lapid’s opposition to the referendum is anti-democratic. Throughout his election campaign, Lapid presented a variety of positions on a number of different key public issues. Defining Israel’s national borders was not one of them. In fact, out of the 35 political parties that peddled for votes a few months ago, not one dared link the ill-conceived Oslo Accords or suggested borders to their political platform.
It is peculiar that Lapid and his party prefer that a pile of politicians decide where Israel’s permanent borders should be set, rather than bring such a paramount and almost irreversible matter to a referendum. Letting the public decide is simply the most democratic and right thing to do. There are not many standalone issues that need be brought to the public for referendum. Irreversible decisions concerning the demarcation of secure and just borders for Israel are such an issue. Other matters, such as the cost of cottage cheese or the middle class tax margin, can be addressed in periodically held elections.
Israel’s final national borders should be set after an in-depth national discussion. Political parties, NGOs and individuals should suggest the demarcation lines, based on security, social, economic, demographic, historical, national and international considerations. Following extensive deliberations and public discourse a transparent and democratic vote should be held by means of referendum. This process is not perfect, but it’s preferable to general elections that address a wide range of issues.
The recipe for referendum proposed by the Supreme Court of Canada when reconsidering the separation of Quebec from Canada, should serve Israel well. In a paramount decision taken after two very volatile referendums, the Supreme Court of Canada held that such a vital and almost irreversible decision should require "a clear majority votes on a clear question" (Judgment of the Supreme Court of Canada - Reference re Secession of Quebec, 1998 - 2 S.C.R. 217). In other words, the question presented to the people must be unambiguous so that voters know exactly what they are voting for – and the majority should be substantial - say two thirds of the voters - so that the results will be unquestionable.
Almost all internationally recognized borders came to be as a direct result of war. Israel does not need another war, certainly not a civil war. When choosing between war and referendum, the latter clearly prevails. Israel needs to form a national consensus concerning its final borders, and after six and a half decades of independence to finally set the nation’s borders.
The referendum result will set a consensus backed border for Israel. Red lines, from which no government will be entitled to withdraw from and for which the lion’s share of Israelis are willing to fight for.