- - Monday, July 10, 2017


For a half century, negotiating a relationship between the Jews of Israel and the Muslim and Christian Arabs of Palestine has been a major diplomatic preoccupation. But without finding the formula, reality is wiping away the concept of two states in the old British definition of Palestine.

The fundamental reason is clear. An Arab Palestine is no match for Israeli economy and society, which, despite its small size and a population of only 8.5 million, has become a world power — perhaps, though Israel will neither confirm nor deny, with nuclear weapons.

The question posed, of course, is what kind of one-state solution would evolve, with events spinning at warp speed. There had to be a two-state solution, it was argued, for otherwise a Jewish Israel could not survive if it included a majority of Arab Muslims. Israel’s Declaration of Independence, after all, called for a Jewish state with equality of social and political rights, irrespective of religion, race or sex. Arab citizens of Israel have been elected to seats in every session of the Knesset, the parliament, and currently hold 17 of its 120 seats.

The demographics have changed dramatically over the decades. Israel’s overwhelming victory against the Arab forces in the 1967 Six Day War added the contiguous occupied areas of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights. A 2013 estimate counted 6.2 million Jews and others in Israel, 1.7 million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, and 2.5 million Palestinians in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. There are 1.6 million Israeli Arabs, not including Druze, who have largely chosen Israeli citizenship, with altogether 5.8 million Arabs and 6.2 million Jews living between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.

Higher birthrates, including plural wives among the Arab Bedouin nomads, further complicate the picture. Arabs argue that 1.5 million Israeli Arabs are second-class citizens and 4 million Arabs are not citizens at all. Palestinians make up about 20 percent of Israel’s population, and are allocated 7 percent of the budget. Arabs further argue that a Jew from any country can move to Israel under “the law of the right to return,” but a Palestinian refugee with a valid claim to property in Israel cannot.

A new formula may be in order, though some problems may be less difficult to resolve than appear at first glance. There are indications that as Arabs move to higher economic status, especially Israeli Arabs, they have fewer children, thus reducing the demographic disparity. Earlier catastrophic predictions in the 1960s suggested that Arabs would be the majority by 1990. That didn’t happen. Birthrates of Arab Christians and Druze are actually below those of Jews.

The phrase “demographic bomb” was first used by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 2003, when he observed that if the percentage of Arab citizens rises above 20 percent Israel won’t be capable of maintaining a Jewish majority. A new Israel is emerging without illusions about its demographic problems, but that does not include another state carved out of the territory.

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