The Israeli elites have for a while already been struggling with a major crisis which really could represent an ‘existential threat’ to the state of Israel. No, not Ahmadinejad’s never spoken words about ‘wiping Israel off the map’ or the non-existing Iranian nuclear weapons program (no member of the IAEA has ever succeeded in developing nuclear weapons), but the demographic time bomb which has been ticking with increased speed since many years already. This problem has become so acute now as to now make a two-state solution both impossible and irrelevant.
Besides a higher birth rate for Palestinians, several additional factors have contributed to the current crisis including the occupation of the Occupied Territories, the creation of numerous Jewish settlements inside these territories, the gradual dismemberment of the territorial continuity of the West Bank by means of colonies, ‘Jews only’ highways, the ‘separation wall’, the many checkpoints, military bases – all these factors have contributed to a de facto annexation and incorporation of the West Bank into Israel proper.
Decades of strategic miscalculations for the sake of petty political and ideological interests by all the successive Israeli governments have made the separation of the West Bank from Israel simply impossible (check out this high resolution map by the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem to fully appreciate the situation as it was in 2002).
Late in the game, having finally decided to act on this threat, the Israelis withdrew from Gaza and turned it into an open-air prison under their total control. This ‘solution’ resulted in the rapid takeover of Gaza by Hamas and a systematic campaign of rocket attacks from Gaza against nearby Israeli villages. Whatever the merits (or lack thereof) of this approach, it simply cannot be repeated with the far larger, richer and strategically important West Bank. But even assuming some kind of ‘magical’ Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank – nothing would be solved by it. At best, it would give more time to the Israeli Jews to decide what to do with the 1/5th of the Israeli population inside Israel proper which is Palestinian.
The Israeli elites have begun to open address this issue by contemplating some rather minor land swaps between Israel and the future Palestinian state as shown in this Al-Jazeera report:
Still, this is clearly a case of way too little and way too late. More importantly, the real threat to Israel is not demographic but moral.
Modern Israel was mainly created by secular, left-leaning Jewish intellectuals who wanted it to be democratic, egalitarian and politically progressive. While they were definitely willing to terrorize their Arab neighbors and make land grabs at every opportunity, they did not want their country to turn into the kind of neo-Fascist society which, often, they had fled from.
Over the years, however, the influx of very different kind of Jewish immigrants and the constant wars with their Arab neighbors hardened the nationalist and outright racist tendencies of the Israelis and the idea that “Arabs only understand force” became tacitly accepted mainstream public opinion. As the violence reached new heights, even more violence was seen as the only possible way to deal with the Arabs. There is, however, only so much violence any nation can inflict outside before it starts using the same methods inside its borders.
Broadly speaking Israel stands now at a crossroads of two fundamentally different and mutually exclusive development models:
1. Israel can choose to remain a ‘Jewish state’ at all costs. In this case it will either have to reign down even more violence and terror on all the Palestinians living inside its real (as opposed to legal) borders, or it will have to find a way to expel them. In this scenario Gaza will have to be turned into a Gulag, the West bank into an assortment of ‘mini-Gazas’ completely surrounded by Jewish settlements and IDF posts, and the Israeli Arabs living inside Israel proper will have to live under an Apartheid-like regime. Inevitably, this policy will only result in more violence and more bloodshed, the Israeli society will gradually turn into South African -type of system in which democratic rights are limited to one ethnic group and the rest of the society will live in constant violence, terror and repression.
2. Israel can choose to remain a democratic state at all costs. In this case it will have to openly recognize that a separation into two sovereign entities is simply not feasible and that Jews and Arabs will have to live together not only in the Middle-East, but inside Israel also. In this scenario, Israeli Jews will have to make the same fundamental decision which the White South Africans did: to give up their race-based privileges for the sake of a democracy enjoyed by all its citizens regardless or ethnicity or religion. Conversely, like South Africa’s ANC, the Arabs and Palestinians will have to come up with some project which can be acceptable to Israeli Jews.
Two truly seminal books have been published last year which discuss this crucial issue: Jonathan Cook’s Blood and Religion which looks at the current situation and which proves that contrary to Jimmy Carter’s claims, Apartheid also very much exists inside Israel, and Ali Abunimah’s One Country which offers a fascinating blueprint of how a ‘one state’ solution could be achieved and why it would address the needs and hopes of both Arabs and Jews.
These two short books are an absolutely essential reading for anyone wanting to understand the fundamental reasons behind the choice Israel begins to tackle with. Together they prove beyond possible doubt that any ‘two state’ solution is already stillborn. They also show that Ahmadinejad was factually and logically correct when he, quoting Ayatollah Khomenei, said Imam ghoft een rezhim-e ishghalgar-e qods bayad az safheh-ye ruzgar mahv shavad (“The Imam said this regime occupying Jerusalem must vanish from the page of time”).
No state, including Israel, can hope to achieve piece if it is based on racial discrimination and a systematic use of violence. Fully realizing this, a group of intellectuals (including Palestinians and Israelis) published the following declaration: (original text and list of signatories here)
For decades, efforts to create a just peace for Palestinians and Israeli Jews have failed. The current crisis has further set back hopes for a political solution to the conflict. In this context, a group of scholars, journalists and activists met in Madrid, at the invitation of Universidad Complutense de Madrid, for five days of intensive discussion on alternatives to this ongoing impasse, framed by their belief that a democratic state in all of historic Palestine provides the only moral and practical basis for a just, sustainable peace.
Presentations were informed by the understanding that the attempt to partition historic Palestine, regarded by the major powers as a solution to the conflict, has failed to bring about justice and peace or to offer a genuine process leading towards them. It was argued that the two-state approach encourages separation where equality and coexistence are imperative.
Participants presented the two-state approach as failing to take into account physical and political realities on the ground and presuming false parity in power and moral claims between the two peoples. Discussions ranged through many other issues including the forms of domination Israel exercises over the Palestinians and the racist practices this entails, such as ethnic cleansing, forms of apartheid, a legal system in Israel built on ethnic discrimination, and the denial of the Palestinian right of return, as well as how to define the rights of Israeli Jews. The discussions considered ways of reframing the question in terms of a struggle for equality and justice, equal citizenship for all the people in the land, and decolonization. Participants debated interpretations of international law, the nature of the conflict, Zionism, the role of religion, and re-imagining national identities.
Many issues for further discussion, action and research emerged, including forms of internal and international solidarity with Palestinians (such as boycott, divestment and sanctions), the lessons from other similarly structured conflicts including South Africa and Northern Ireland, rethinking the relationship between state and citizen, and how to organize a post-conflict society so that it provides a secure and dignified life to Palestinians and Israeli Jews. The participants shared a commitment to engaging deeply with these issues, in the context of their commitment to a democratic solution that will offer an enduring and just peace in a single state, and invite the widest possible participation in this quest.
In contrast, the vast majority of politicians and commentators, as well as the corporate media, are totally ignoring this issue and are persisting in upholding the delusion that a two state solution is still feasible. This is why only fully pliable and obedient Palestinians are invited to any talks and why the upcoming Annapolis Conference will pretend to seek the outline of a possible ‘solution to the Palestinian problem’ without ever addressing the real issues underlying the conflict. This is also why we can only expect one thing from this conference: more of the same, only worse.