David Friedman’s ideological commitment to the far-right agenda in Israel and potential influence on Trump should be cause for grave concern.
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We now know of his significant personal involvement with the settlement movement, his assurances that Trump himself supports his views — including Israel's annexation of parts of the West Bank — and most recently that he persuaded Donald Trump to donate $10,000 to Beit El, his pet settlement lying well beyond the border of any serious proposal for a two-state solution.
While Friedman boasts a solid dedication to the vision of Greater Israel, his justification for such positions — positions considered anathema by two-state proponents — rests on a questionable argument that has become popular in national-religious Israeli circles. As he explained in a September interview, Palestinian population figures in the West Bank are exaggerated, and Israel could annex it and still maintain a roughly two-thirds Jewish majority.
In other words, settlements are not an obstacle for peace; all Israel must do is impose a one-state solution — albeit one that critically excludes the Gaza Strip — and it would still maintain both its Jewish and democratic character.
Perhaps the most articulate voice behind this proposition is Caroline Glick, a prominent English-language writer for the Jerusalem Post who published a book on the very subject. In her work, appropriately titled "The Israeli Solution," Glick envisions “applying Israeli law” to the West Bank and giving a path to citizenship for its Palestinian residents via the Citizenship Law — typically a seven-year process for non-Jews.
The book also repeats the conclusion that Israel could maintain a two-thirds Jewish majority after annexing the West Bank. However, to support this claim she references debunked studies, including those by Yoram Ettinger, whose research, which was adopted by the right-wing American-Israel Demographic Research Group, may have been the source of Friedman’s remarks on the demographics.
According to the Israeli military, the Shin Bet and outside bodies, the figure for Palestinians in the West Bank is at least 2.6 million; Combined with Israel’s 1.8 million Arabs, the figure would amount to around 40 percent of the population.
A closer reflection on this one-state model reveals that it would leave Israel more vulnerable to the very issues that it was intended to resolve.
For starters, while Israel would retain its Jewish majority, such a large Arab minority of 40 percent would still effectively transform Israel into a bi-national state. In order to avoid prolonged ethnic civil conflict, the ruling Jewish polity would be more pressured from within to make fundamental compromises regarding the country’s identity, including forfeiting its Jewish monopoly in national ceremonies and symbols, as well as by recognizing Palestinians as a national minority. It would also likely need to foot the bill on bringing West Bank Palestinian communities up to speed economically — an enormous cost that most Jewish Israelis would likely not give willingly to their longtime adversaries.
Festering sectarian inequality and non-recognition of Palestinian national identity could also leave present-day Arab citizens of Israel further alienated than they are now, and push them to adopt a nationalist Palestinian stance in greater numbers.
Additionally, West Bank Palestinians would almost undoubtedly boycott the path to Israeli citizenship en masse — as we have seen in Jerusalem — both in order to avoid pledging allegiance to Israel as a Jewish state, and to deny legitimacy to the imposition of sovereign Israeli rule over the territory and the exclusion of Gaza. In such a scenario, it will become ever harder to fend off accusations of apartheid, when millions of Palestinians living in a self-identified Jewish state lack a vote or recognition of national minority rights, while reminding the world that the Jewish majority is propped up by the calculated exclusion of the one and a half million residents of Gaza.
Should West Bank and Jerusalem Palestinians opt instead for citizenship, it would threaten to warp the electoral system into an ethnic contest. The more religious and Jewish nationalist Israelis would resist changes to the country’s Jewish identity, the more likely both societies would vote along sectarian lines. Before long, the Jewish Israeli collective would be compelled to weigh the same painful compromises on identity and sweeping economic action in order to stave off an uprising from the disenchanted Palestinian polity.
Finally, Israel would have to contend with a daunting set of new internal security challenges as the same population it has for so long been in conflict with is suddenly incorporated into its borders. Wide-scale protests and rioting would always lie just around the corner, ready to erupt with the next flare-up, particularly from an even more isolated Gaza Strip.
Unless Friedman wishes to see Israel try its luck on embracing a truly bi-national state, which he really doesn’t, his backing of the settlers’ agenda will be a pox on Israel’s house.
Brian Reeves is a D.C.-based analyst on Israeli politics and U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. Previously, he lived in Jerusalem and was a visiting fellow at Mitvim – The Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies. @BrianNReeves