Act Now: The Greatest Threat to Israel Is Continuing the Status Quo

If it retains the West Bank, Israel can be Jewish, but no longer democratic. Or, it can be democratic, but no longer Jewish. For those who love Israel, time is running out.

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Israeli border police check Palestinians' identification cards at a checkpoint as they exit the Arab neighborhood of Issawiyeh in Jerusalem, October 22, 2015.
Preparations being made for rally marking 20 years since PM Rabin's murder, October 30, 2015.Credit: AP

When it comes to Middle East peace, I admittedly have a strong bias: I am a lifelong Zionist with a profound love for Israel. It’s precisely that love that drives me to say emphatically that Israel faces a threat not only from those who want to see it destroyed, but also from demographic realities that can accomplish what those enemies can’t.

For me, ahavat Yisrael, the love of Israel, was instilled at an early age — before the birth of modern-day Israel. I remember first hearing the horrifying news of the Nazis’ systematic murder of Europe’s Jews. I remember reading about refugees struggling to get to the Holy Land, of ships turned away, not only from Palestine, but also from my own country.

I remember the thrill and excitement of the founding of Israel, and the knowledge that Jews no longer would be turned away, that we had a refuge and our own homeland, that we Jews now were responsible for our own survival.

It is those memories and love for Israel that motivate me today to do what I can to point out the existential threat of today’s demographic realities, to push for Israel to get back to the peace table, to ensure that people remember the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s words that “separation between Israel and the Palestinians is the best solution for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict” and that, given the choice “between the whole of the land of Israel, which meant a binational state and a state with less territory, but which would be a Jewish state,” as Rabin declared: “We chose a Jewish state because we are convinced that a binational state with millions of Palestinian Arabs will not be able to fulfill the Jewish role of the State of Israel, which is the state of the Jews.”

In a few more years it will be too late for Israel to make that choice. The dream of a Jewish democratic state will be lost. For those who love Israel, and want it to remain a Jewish state, the time to act is now.

The greatest existential threat to the Jewish, democratic state of Israel is continuing the status quo.

The numbers speak for themselves. Simply look at the Jewish population, which continues to shrink compared with greater Israel’s Arab population. Today’s population, from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River, is 52 percent Jewish. By the year 2020, the population is projected to be 49 percent Jewish and by 2030 just 44 percent Jewish.

With those diminishing percentages, it is simply impossible for the state to control all of the biblical land of Israel while remaining both Jewish and democratic. If it retains the West Bank, Israel can be Jewish, but no longer democratic. Or, it can be democratic, but no longer Jewish.

There is, of course, a third choice: Stay a majority Jewish and democratic nation by working with the Palestinians to create a nonmilitarized Palestinian state, with the two living side by side in security and peace.

Israelis, Palestinians and the international community are all in desperate need of a two-state solution. We know that we can only reach a lasting deal through international and regional cooperation, as well as direct negotiations.

The time to act is now.

S. Daniel Abraham is the chair of the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace.