[A caution first: My political opinions about Israel are in no way anti-Semitic, a term more bandied about to smear an opponent or discredit ideas not to one's liking than used to identify attitudes, beliefs, or conduct which implies the legal, moral, political, or religious inferiority of Jews. Nothing in this column states or suggests such attitudes, beliefs, or conduct. Israel has legal and moral rights to exist--its anti-Semitics deniers of those rights, notwithstanding--but irreversible demographic trends are making the exercise of those rights ultimately inoperative and unenforceable. It is long since time that Americans and most particularly Israelis recognize that reality and its implications. No "friend of Israel" helps the state or its citizens, Jewish and Muslim alike, by encouraging intransigence.]
Events leading to the creation of the State of Israel were controversial, and its existence since its creation has remained controversial. Nothing is gained by re-litigating any issue involved; every accusation has a preceding counter-accusation. Contention may go back to pre-historical times, when Neanderthals and Cro-Magnons lived farther apart in the Middle East than in Europe. Nevertheless, recent history explains the present impasse created by Europeans and perpetuated by everyone.
Russian pogroms in the decades before and after the turn of the century prompted many Jews to flee to Palestine. Reacting to this continuation of centuries of persecution, Zionism encouraged European Jews to leave for Palestine. The migration of Jews to a Muslim-dominated land predictably led to change, contention, and conflict.
Before the First World War, Palestine was a province of the Ottoman Empire sparsely populated by poor Jews and Muslims living in peace under lax rule. The influx of European Jews destabilized it, and the Balfour Declaration, promising it as a Jewish homeland, roused Muslim resentment at British control and Jewish ascendency. In the 30 years between the Balfour Declaration and the U.N. vote creating two states—one Jewish, one Muslim—both groups jockeyed for power. British vacillation between honoring its commitment and promoting its interests increased frictions between the two groups. As statehood approached, both sides prepared for war; when statehood arrived, war broke out, Israeli forces prevailed, and Arabs, exiled or self-exiled, became refugees occupying squalid camps in surrounding countries.
In the next 25 years, Israeli forces defeated Arab armies in 1967 and 1973. In the Six-Day War, Israeli armies conquered and occupied the West Bank, East Jerusalem, Gaza, and Syria’s Golan Heights. Israel still controls these areas today and continues to expand earlier or build new settlements in all but Gaza.
Sixty years of intermittent conflict and ineffectual peacemaking have achieved permanent impasse. Most of the pros and cons of the American debate lack redeeming merit. America’s reflexive support encourages Israel’s intransigence, which is reality-denying and counter-productive. Christian fundamentalist support of Israel, to promote the in-gathering of Jews, a pre-condition of the Rapture, is anti-Semitic in using Jews for Christian purposes. The anti-Semitic New Left abhors the state of Israel as a vestige of colonialism and argues its illegality despite its creation by the United Nations. Indeed, Israel’s continued occupation of conquered areas is imperialistic; worse, it is pointless. That land, occupied in an era of terrorist attack and rocketry, cannot serve as either a protective barrier or a bargaining chip in negotiations. Instead, its occupation offers false security and is self-defeating, for it antagonizes Palestinians, prompts attacks, and impedes a resolution of differences.
The truth of the matter: Israel, intended as a democratic, Jewish state, is an increasingly untenable political entity. The paramount and persisting fact: its population has faster growing numbers of Muslims than Jews. A two-state solution cannot save Israel as a democratic, Jewish state from the signal consequence of this internal dynamic—a fact foretelling a majority of Muslim citizens. Israel’s response is not a strategy with purpose, but a syndrome of fatalism. By continuing to alternate between shifting policy impulsively and drifting indecisively, Israel exacerbates many problems, ameliorates few of them, and postpones the final reckoning.
Willy-nilly, Israel faces a short-term existential choice—a democratic but not Jewish state or a Jewish but not democratic state—with either choice leading to long-term failure. If Israel chooses to be democratic but not Jewish, Israeli Muslims would vote for the creation of, or annexation with, a Palestinian state. The results would be the eradication of Israel, the annexation of its land, and the incorporation of its people into a Palestinian state.
If Israel chooses to be Jewish but not democratic, its options would include the expansion of political or economic restrictions on Israeli Muslims, their expulsion, or their extermination. Israeli Jews would probably reject these options for moral, legal, or practical reasons. Otherwise, Israeli and regional Muslims would react overwhelmingly: insurrection or invasion, with international support of either or both. The inevitable outcomes would be those above, with the possibility of repeating Jewish history: exodus or holocaust.
Either choice leads to an inevitable outcome: the dissolution of the State of Israel. The inevitability reflects the inherent contradiction that a state can be both religious and democratic.
I suggest a two-step, not a two-state, solution. Step one: a single-state protectorate of Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza under U.N. administration, like the Allied administration of Berlin, but without zones of occupation (Syria recovers the Golan Heights). Step two: a single state with a constitution consistent with the U.N. charter and guaranteed by the U.N. to ensure democratic rights and representation to all. A Jewish minority would influence, not dominate, its direction and development. A Palestinian majority would support such a state and reconcile with Jews, in keeping with the centuries-long history of good relations between Jews and Muslims.