Last night, I debated Shlomo Riskin, founding Chief Rabbi of the West Bank settlement of Efrat, at Rabbi Avi Weiss’s synagogue, Hebrew Institute of Riverdale. The thing that most pleased me was Riskin’s acknowledgment that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict should ultimately produce a Palestinian state with a capital in East Jerusalem. (I don’t think that view is compatible with support for settlement growth, but that’s what we were arguing about).The thing that most puzzled me was Riskin’s insistence that the occupation doesn’t imperil Israel’s democratic character because Israel has not declared sovereignty over the West Bank. It’s a strangely legalistic argument. Israel has controlled the West Bank for 45 years. Yes, the Palestinian Authority is charged with delivering services to most Palestinians, and yes, the PA has formal security authority in the twenty percent of the West Bank that constitutes Area A. But the Israel Defense Forces can go into every centimeter of the West Bank; they can arrest Palestinian Authority officials; they control the borders and the currency. So what that Israel hasn’t declared sovereignty? It’s clearly avoided doing so in part because it does not want to be bound by the democratic principles in its own declaration of independence. This is what governments usually do when they want to violate their own law; they create some legal netherworld where they can largely do what they want. In the West Bank, Palestinians live in that netherworld; Jews, who enjoy Israeli citizenship, don’t. How is any of this less antithetical to democratic principles because Israel pretends that the West Bank is not really Israel?