11 November 2003

Israel May Soon Take Path U.S. Can't Follow

If a two-state solution is indeed no longer possible, the occupied territories would in essence become a permanent part of the state of Israel, creating a country that reaches from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River. That additional territory, however, also comes equipped with so many Palestinians that by the end of the decade, the enlarged Jewish state would actually contain more Arabs than Jews within its borders.

To preserve its Jewish character, Israel would then have two choices:

  • It could deny citizenship and voting rights to its Arab majority, thus surrendering any right to call itself a democracy. Given the difficulties inherent in a minority trying to permanently repress a majority, Israel would also be forced to deny basic human rights to its Arab subjects. Israelis would reduce themselves to the Jewish equivalent of white South Africans, who for so long sat uncomfortably astride a black majority. U.S. support for Israel would inevitably erode under those conditions.

  • Israel could try to rid itself of the problem of long-term repression by forcing the Palestinians to leave the country, either directly through threat of violence or indirectly by making life so difficult they would flee. In other words, ethnic cleansing, although the preferred term in Israeli policy debate is 'transfer.' There is no question that today a strong majority of Israelis find that option all but unthinkable. It is also true, however, that Israel is today employing brutal tactics against Palestinians that were unthinkable back in 1985 or 1990.

After another 10 years of repressive occupation and suicide bombing by Palestinians, attitudes about 'transfer' could change as well, again forfeiting the support of many millions of Americans.

For the moment, Israel would seem to be making no choice whatsoever. But as is often the case, no choice is in fact a choice. The settlements are growing, increasing in population by more than 30 percent in the past five years. In a recent poll, 40 percent of Israelis feared a civil war was probable if their country ever tried to evacuate the settlements. The wall is growing longer, the concrete is setting. Quietly, almost unconsciously, Israel is making choices that will set it on a course that the United States should not follow.

It is a course that makes many of Israel's friends despair for its future.

I seem to have got sucked into an extended polemic on this topic at The Road to Surfdom so I might as well throw in my two cents here. I think it's a horribly complicated issue and one-dimensional solutions will not work. Among those failing solutions are doing nothing while Israel drifts into incorporating the West Bank and Gaza and then tries to deal with a permanent disfranchised majority within its expanded borders.

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