Israel needs the Palestinian state to come into existence even more than the Palestinians do. Without it, Israel cannot continue as both a Jewish and a democratic state. If Israel doesn't reach a two-state settlement with the Palestinians very soon, then one day - likely sooner rather than later - the Jewish state as we know it will cease to exist. And it will be our fault (I say "our" because as a Jew, though not an Israeli, nothing matters more to me than Israel's survival).
Sergio DellaPergola, the Hebrew University professor of Population Studies and the world's leading authority on Jewish and Israeli demographics, has concluded that already today there is no Jewish majority in the areas including Israel, the West Bank and Gaza (as long as Israel controls Gaza's airspace and sea space, it is still considered as controlling that territory in the eyes of the world).
According to DellaPergola’s projections, the Palestinian birthrate outpaces the Jewish birthrate by far, meaning that the Arab majority between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River will gradually become more and more significant. Can Israel survive as a Jewish state when Jews become a minority in their own homeland?
I have raised this issue with some of the highest officials in the current Israeli government and they repeatedly attempt to assure me that the rapidly growing Palestinian population in no way threatens Israel's survival. As one of them put it to me, "There is no one in Israel in their right mind who would annex or incorporate any of the Palestinian population in the West Bank, so these numbers and projections are not right.”
Such thinking is misguided. How can one assume that once the Palestinians living under Israeli rule outnumber Israeli Jews they will continue to accept their disenfranchisement? I say to Israelis who hear this argument and react defensively, arguing that Israel's treatment of the Arabs has been mild in comparison with their treatment in other countries, and that the world has unfairly targeted Israel for criticism: This argument is irrelevant.
The real problem is not international discrimination against Israel, odious as it is. The real problem is that even if the international community stops censuring Israel for its control of the West Bank, that has no bearing on the simple fact that Israel cannot rule indefinitely over a society where the majority of its residents are non-citizens and resentful about their non-equal status. The more the number of Palestinians living under Israeli rule will be greater than the number of Jews, so it will be impossible to deny them full civil rights.
If Israel doesn't find a way to make an agreement now, the future is clear. The day will come when Palestinians so outnumber Jews that Israel will be forced to give them the vote. When the Israeli parliament has a majority of Palestinian delegates, I suspect that the first bill to pass will be to change the country's name from Israel to Palestine, a name that will reflect the political and cultural background of most of the country's citizens. And the second bill will be a mirror image of the Israeli "Law of Return," only this time it will be a bill that will enable the descendants of the original Palestinian refugees to move to Israel/Palestine. Israel as we know it will cease to exist.
All this can be averted. Abu Mazen and the Palestinian Authority want to make a deal with Israel. While many Israelis refuse to acknowledge this, I know from over 50 meetings with Abu Mazen that his advocacy of a peaceful resolution is utterly sincere. What the Palestinians want is a state of their own, alongside Israel. And public opinion polls conducted in Israel as recently as last month have repeatedly confirmed that between 70 to 80 percent of Israelis would support a peace deal that includes the establishment of a demilitarized Palestinian state, with borders that are based on the 1967 lines with equal land swaps, as well as the settlement of Palestinian refugees in the new Palestinian state rather than in Israel. The land swaps would allow the annexation of the large settlement blocs - home to the vast majority of Israelis living in the West Bank and East Jerusalem - which would be incorporated into Israel’s new, internationally–recognized borders, negating the need for their evacuation.
But as much as the Palestinian Authority wants a state, they are currently part of a diminishing number of Palestinians who believe in a two-state solution. If Israel doesn't deal with the Palestinian Authority and help them establish a state now, the Palestinians will soon stop agitating for one. They will choose to remain stateless, and simply wait for their population to grow. Their numbers will grow and that is precisely why the Jewish state won't survive. It will be destroyed without one shot being fired.
Since the Holocaust, we Jews have wanted to believe that our survival depends totally on ourselves, and no Jews want to believe this more than Israelis. David Ben Gurion, Israel's founding prime minister, was fond of saying, "What matters is not what the gentiles say but what the Jews do." Israel certainly needs to remain militarily the strongest country in the Middle East, one which is stronger than all of her neighbors combined.
But that is not enough. Israel needs one other thing as well. It needs a neighboring state of Palestine in order for Israel to survive. And if we Jews don't understand that, and don't act on that understanding now, perhaps the Jewish people will survive, but the Jewish state won't.
S. Daniel Abraham, a leading American entrepreneur and the founder of the Center for Middle East Peace (Washington), has been engaged in private diplomacy for over the past two decades to help bring an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Want to enjoy 'Zen' reading - with no ads and just the article? Subscribe todaySubscribe now