Do Israelis Really Want a Jewish State?

The economy's thriving, there's no war - all the ingredients for Israel's false sense of security. But if Israelis don't push for recognized borders between a Palestinian state and Israel now, the Jewish state will be lost.

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File photo: An IDF soldier holding an Israeli flag.
File photo: An IDF soldier holding an Israeli flag.Credit: Ilan Asayag

Hostile exchanges now dominate the Israeli-Palestinian arena: Who's responsible for the failed peace negotiations? What's the significance of the new technocratic government in Ramallah? One thing is obvious: The more we engage in this futile debate the less focused we are on the grim reality: Peace isn't happening, certainly not now.

But that doesn't mean that the most important question facing Israel is becoming any less significant: How do we resolve the Palestinian question? The answer to that question will determine Israel's future - and that is our great debate.

I use the word "future" carefully. For today and tomorrow, Israel is fine; more than fine. There is a thriving economy and no immediate risk of war. But anyone with eyes in their heads can see that the future of Israel as a Jewish state is in danger. Particularly because anytime beyond today, the status quo means an ever-increasing Arab population within Israel’s borders.

Right now, 1.7 million people, a little over 20% of Israel's 8.2 million citizens, are Israeli Arabs. An additional 2.4 million Palestinians live under Israeli control on the West Bank. Further, because Israel controls Gaza's air space and maritime borders, the world regards the 1.7 million Arabs of Gaza as also under de facto Israeli control. In short, there are 6.1 million Jews living in Israel, and 5.8 million Arabs who are either Israeli citizens or living under Israeli rule.

The Arabs are increasing in numbers more rapidly than the Jews. Israel is moving closer and closer to parity in numbers between the Jews and Arabs living under Israeli rule. Professor Sergio DellaPergola of the Hebrew University, the world's leading demographic authority on the Jewish and Palestinian populations, has concluded that if one takes into account Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, Jews will be a minority by the year 2020. Even without Gaza, DellaPergola notes, by the year 2020, Arabs will comprise 44% of the people living under Israeli rule. And the day will come, in the not distant future, when the country's Arab population will outnumber the Jewish.

In the words of Bob Dylan, "The times they are a'changing." When the American Secretary of State, John Kerry, declares in a private meeting with the Trilateral Commission that if Israel doesn't find a way to help bring about a Palestinian state and to extricate itself from the West Bank, that it will evolve into an "apartheid state," that means the times are changing far more rapidly than many Israelis realize. And Kerry, it must be emphasized, is sympathetic to Israel.

Israel has an important choice to make. It has to resolve this conflict in order to be a Jewish state.

For Israel to remain majority Jewish, what it needs is a recognized and agreed border between Israel and a future Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza. And the sooner that happens the more secure Israel's future will be. It’s up to the Prime Minister, however, to lead the way to Israel’s future as a Jewish state while safeguarding its democratic character.

This might well be the most important choice Israelis will ever have to make – to be a Jewish state or a half Jewish, half Arab state.

If you want a Jewish state then you - Israelis - must insist that your Prime Minister carries out your wishes. What kind of state Israel will be, and whether it will continue to be Israel at all, is up to you.

S. Daniel Abraham is an American entrepreneur and founder of the Center for Middle East Peace in Washington. Follow the center on Twitter.

Israeli flag at the Western Wall.Credit: Reuters

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