Latest update: July 30th, 2012
As Israel’s leadership digs in its heels in the face of escalating Palestinian demands for statehood, the Jewish state faces a new, rapidly changing dynamic. The Palestinian Authority’s intent to seek United Nations recognition of a new Arab state based on pre-1967 borders, coupled with reconciliation between the PA and Hamas, further complicates the issue.
The Palestinians plan to submit a proposal for statehood to the UN Security Council in September. If vetoed by the U.S., it will be presented to the General Assembly, where the PA is confident of winning the required two-thirds majority. This unilateral strategy, which effectively rejects negotiations with Israel, declares the Palestinians’ intent to bypass Israel on their path to statehood.
While the Obama administration has criticized Palestinian unilateralism, it has empowered the Quartet (the U.S., European Union, Russia, and the UN) to supplant the U.S. as mediator in the Middle East. The Quartet is now working on its plan for Palestinian statehood, to be presented to Israel as a fait accompli.
If there is broad consensus within Israel on any single issue, it’s that maintaining the status quo has caused a precipitous deterioration in the country’s geopolitical status. Branded an occupier, Israel is viewed as not interested in peace. Hostility toward Israel has reached a new low. The Palestinian-initiated Boycott, Divestiture, and Sanctions campaign against Israel enjoys broad support. The model BDS campaign and other efforts to delegitimize Israel mirror the movement to end apartheid in South Africa. The status quo has become ever more difficult for Israel to sustain.
Paradoxically, Israeli proponents of maintaining the status quo publicly espouse support for a two-state solution and bemoan the suspension in negotiations. Privately they view the two-state solution as an existential challenge they are not confident Israel can survive. Prime Minister Netanyahu, in advance of his address to the U.S. Congress, outlined his “redline” positions for Palestinian statehood, confident the Palestinians would never agree to such requirements.
For their part, the Palestinians have made it clear they will never accept Jewish sovereignty even in pre-1967 Israel. Many within their leadership call openly for Israel’s annihilation. For Hamas, the obliteration of Israel remains a prime component of its charter. The two-state solution – stillborn in 1948, reconjured for the 1993 Oslo Accords – remains a fantasy, with no more agreement between the parties now than 18 years ago.
With Israel at a precipice, its future in the balance, a new paradigm is desperately needed. More than at any time since its founding, the Jewish state needs its leaders to craft a new and unifying narrative, one that will inspire the nation and serve as a vision for its future. A narrative that will unequivocally set Israel’s permanent borders, define its relationship to its varied communities, establish its rightful place among the family of nations, and proclaim its inalienable right to its ancestral heartland.
The narrative begins with borders, which are integral to security, as without security there is no Israel. As Ronald Reagan famously said, “A nation without borders is not a nation.” In geographic terms, this applies to no other nation as it does to Israel. No one can currently delineate with precision Israel’s or Jerusalem’s borders, or where they might lie under any future agreement. With the fate of many communities uncertain, lives are destabilized and the nation is disheartened.
Given that borders are the first line of defense, it is essential they provide strategic depth should they be breached. A country nine miles wide at its center is indefensible, an axiomatic assessment currently shared by virtually every Israeli and American military expert.
Adjacent to this nine-mile demarcation line lies Israel’s central mountain range, which straddles Judea and Samaria as it slopes toward the coastal plain. Israel’s coastal plain is home to 70 percent of the country’s population, 80 percent of its industrial capacity, and Ben Gurion Airport. No country can survive with its major population centers and only major airfield in close proximity and vulnerable to devastating Gaza-style rocket and mortar bombardments. The central highlands and defensive advantage they provide must remain with Israel.
Given the Middle East’s instability, secure borders safeguarding maximum strategic depth are imperative. Israel’s leading military analysts have warned since 1967 that Israel’s survival depends on control of the Jordan Valley. Its high ridgelines provide a natural barrier against the threat of hostile armies from the east. Israel’s previous narrative, of borders “from the River to the Sea,” must be revived.
The narrative we speak of proclaims Israel as a free, democratic, and Jewish society. What then of the “demographic time bomb” scenario, which postulates that an Israel that retains Judea and Samaria will have an Arab majority and thus be neither Jewish nor democratic? In fact, this is a fraudulent claim wielded to convince Israel to surrender its heartland in order to create a Palestinian state.
The numbers tell the truth: On Israel’s 63rd Independence Day, the Central Bureau of Statistics reported Israel’s population at 7.7 million, with 5.84 million Jews (comprising 75.3 percent) and 1.59 million Arabs (20.5 percent). The report did not include the 1.5 million Arabs living beyond the pre-1967 Green Line. By including these 1.5 million Arabs, the overall population increases to 9.2 million. This reduces the Jewish percentage of the population to 64.5 and increases the Arab percentage to 33.5 percent of all persons residing west of the Jordan River (not including Gaza).
Note that at 64-65 percent, the Jewish majority west of the Jordan River has not changed for the past 40 years. The demographic change that has taken place in Judea and Samaria is a decline in Arab birth rates from its peak of 8 to barely 4.5 today. Arab and Jewish birth rates in Jerusalem have now converged at 3.9 per family.
Immigration to Israel, however, has contributed to Israel’s growing Jewish population. By contrast, Arab emigration – estimated at 500,000 since 1967 – now numbers approximately 10,000 per year from Judea and Samaria alone. The resultant demographics clearly favor Israel.
All citizens of Israel are entitled to live peacefully, worship freely, and enjoy full political representation. The understanding is that all political entities function within the legal framework of Israel’s political process.
Irredentist political entities that threaten the security of Israel must not be permitted. That the Palestinian Authority functions as a government independent of Israel and claims control over Israeli land is a disgrace that diminishes Israel’s standing as a sovereign nation. Its maintenance of a separate U.S.-trained military force further erodes Israel’s autonomy and presents a vital danger to Israel; it should be disbanded.
As a minority, Israel’s Arabs face issues similar to minorities in other nations. Yet they enjoy more political freedom and economic potential than their brethren in most Arab countries. They serve as members of Knesset, are represented in all professions, utilize Israel’s malls and parks, and send their children to its universities. In this light, Israel deserves credit for its efforts to integrate its diverse communities.
Nevertheless challenges persist.
Most Israelis have no desire to “rule over” Arabs. As absurd as it would be to assert that in the U.S. Caucasians rule over African-Americans and Hispanics, or that in Canada Anglos rule over minority French Canadians, so too it is absurd to suggest Israeli Jews rule over Arabs. Most want nothing more than to live peacefully. Israel cannot divide itself in two, surrender its heartland, hand over sovereignty over Jerusalem, and accept a security threat of existential magnitude because of the difficulties of integrating its minority populations.
The goal of Israel’s new narrative should be to provide a vision – to unify and inspire a beleaguered nation. The borders it proclaims are to be secure and permanent. It returns Israel’s ancestral heartland to the Jewish people. It guarantees Jewish sovereignty in all of Jerusalem and access to its holy places. It defines Israel as free, democratic, and Jewish, granting religious and political freedom to all its citizens.
It calls for one government, one army, and one nation – Israel – as sovereign on that hallowed land.
Asher Zelig Fried, who maintains The Israel Narrative blog (TheIsraelNarrative.com) where he comments on Israeli and Jewish affairs, is a frequent contributor to Jewish publications in Israel, the U.S. and Canada.
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