It’s difficult to write this without being framed as some sort of fanatic. Either I should fall on the left that advocates a bi-national state, or on the right that can only see things through the lens of “Greater Israel.” Both of these labels are presumptuous, and have precluded debate about this issue. Like this, many other issues and questions have been glossed over, and beg attention. There is a way to reconcile these “extremes” and providing a reason to trend away from the two-state plan.
The Obama Administration is trying to torpedo renewed discussion of this idea with a strained attempt to force two-state negotiations while continuing the Bush Administration policy of building the PA’s security apparatus. But an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank in any capacity would contract the country’s defensive posture in the Middle East and invite encroachment from Syria, with no guarantees the already extant terrorist groups in the area would not grow and infiltrate a Palestinian state’s security forces.
At this point in time, annexing the West Bank (without the Gaza Strip) would not hinder Jews’ clear majority in a unified state. That does not imply that absorbing the territory immediately would resolve a plethora of security, social and religious issues. But to give the vote to everyone in the West Bank would create both a Jewish and democratic state from the Jordan to the Mediterranean, sans Gaza. The question then comes to how the Jewish population intends to preserve that majority.
Photo: Jonathan Beck
But before that can be answered, we need to remember why we should be concerned about that in the first place? Like alluded to above, this is a question that is seldom addressed and its answers seldom clarified by commentators. It was sighted ad nauseum in the lead up to the disengagement five years ago, but I am not so sure observers really understood why this issue was so important to Israelis.
Jews instinctively would bring up domestic security concerns. Israelis are especially cognizant of the pogroms in Europe and especially the Arab riots in 1929, 1936-39 and the two intifadas. Annexation evokes fears of anti-Semitic sabotage and civil war or, God forbid, pogroms in Israel if the government ever fell into the hands of a hostile Arab majority.
This is a concern that no one can simply alleviate. Jewish sovereignty and qualitative ability to defend the Jewish world from attack are one of dozens of the conceptual underpinnings of the entire Zionist movement and existence of the State of Israel. It is what justified one of the first global, collective gestures of affirmative action in modern history – the creation of an ethnically based country – the Jewish State of Israel.
The moderate approach in Israeli politics regarding a One-State solution would be to both annex the West Bank and push off the idea of official “bi-nationalism.” Such a state would have to remain a Jewish state, with a Jewish symbol on its flag like an Islamic crescent dawns the Turkish or Pakistani banners, and maintain a Jewish majority (not plurality) in the territory of the state.
So again, how would it be preserved? It brings the whole debate back to what should be called the “big blue elephant” in the room – the need to increase Jewish immigration to Israel and the natural birthrate of Israeli Jews. These are not policies that Western democracies are expected to implement. But Western states do not exist for the sake of ethnic preservation against global instances of oppression, whether it be in Europe or the Arab World. These policies are not radical to Israelis and they are not radical to certain other ethnic states. And given the willingness to discuss population exchange and mass eviction during peace negotiations, they are not all too awkward to the likes of the Western powers either.
Few Israeli politicians suggest this because it all assumes too many developments. Recently, Likud MK Tzipi Hotovely alluded to it when she fielded the idea of giving Israeli citizenship to Palestinians. There seems to be no guarantee a renewed push for Aliyah and reversal of Yeridah would bear fruit, or Jewish families would decide to have more children.
But global Jewish leadership have fought against such pessimism. Tens of millions of dollars are already spent every year on all forms of Jewish outreach – religious, cultural and political. Activists the world over urge the end of assimilation and absorption of mixed families into the greater Jewish community. The push is for far bigger and far more Jewish families by leaders and organizations everywhere. The State of Israel, the strongest Jewish organization in the entire world, should coordinate all of these efforts, stress the importance of the Land of Israel to all streams of Judaism and emphasize the centrality of the state to the modern Jewish world.
It is possible to enhance Israel’s Jewish, democratic and defensive characteristics all simultaneously. Israel’s Jewish character and the preservation of minorities’ rights and needs are reconcilable. It is a mixture of idealism and practicality, yet an objective approach, politically satiable and the optimal approach to take.