The A-Z of Israel
On 22 January, Israelis will go to the polls. The world watches – but how much do we really know about the country that calls itself “the sole bastion of democracy” in the Middle East?
A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z
D is for Demographics
Ramadan in Jerusalem's Old City in 2011. Photograph: Getty Images
Ali Abunimah writes: Israelis and Palestinians don’t agree on much, but a 2012 poll, financed by the Konrad Adenauer and Ford Foundations, suggested that 70 per cent of Israelis, and an almost equal proportion of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, rated the chances for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state in the next five years as “low” or “non-existent”.
They are right. There won’t be an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza and there will be no “two-state solution”. This is a conclusion that many diplomats and peace process officials acknowledge in private but refuse to concede publicly.
The immediate reasons are clear: since it occupied the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1967 (along with Syria’s Golan Heights and Egypt’s Sinai), Israel has devoted its energies to making the occupation irreversible by confining and displacing Palestinian communities, replacing them with sprawling, Jewish-only colonies.
This project failed in Gaza, where Israel abandoned its settlements in 2005 (see C for Calories). In contrast, Israel redoubled its settlement efforts in the West Bank, to the point where well over half a million settlers live a privileged existence there, controlling as much as 42 per cent of the land (see W for Wall). In the past three years alone, Israel’s settler population on the West Bank has grown by 18 per cent.
For decades, there has been a consensus – backed by numerous UN resolutions – that Israel’s colonies are illegal and must be removed. Yet, instead of confronting Israel, the “international community” has been complicit, channelling aid and Palestinian energies into maintaining a bantustan-like “Palestinian Authority” that, far from being the nucleus of a state, acts as an economic/milit - ary subcontractor for Israel. The dilemma, from a Zionist perspective, is that the settler project succeeded but did not quite go far enough. Though Israel is entrenched in the West Bank, the overall Jewish population in historic Palestine hovers at just 50 per cent. In a short while, Palestinians will once again be the majority, just as they were before 1948 when more than 700,000 of them were expelled. There is no Zionist solution to Israel’s dilemma that does not perpetuate gross injustice. Palestinians and Israelis cannot be separated into ethnically homogeneous nations without the risk of violence of the kind that occurred when Israel was created.
If two ethnically distinct states are unachievable and unjust, where can we go? Remarkably, the Konrad Adenauer/Ford poll found that 36 per cent of Israelis (28 per cent counting only Jews) and 31 per cent of Palestinians agreed with the argument that “there is a need to begin to think about a solution of a one state for two people[s] in which Arabs and Jews enjoy equality”. These numbers are surprisingly high, given that no leading political party or international figure has advocated such an outcome.
Increasingly among Palestinians, the focus is shifting away from statehood towards a discourse on rights. Nowhere is this embodied more succinctly than in the 2005 Palestinian civil society call for boycott, divestment and sanctions on Israel. Without stipulating one state or two, this call demands the end of the Israeli occupation; recognition of the fundamental rights of Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and that any outcome respect, protect and promote the rights of Palestinian refugees to return home.
Could these demands – rooted in universal rights and international law – be fulfilled by a two-state solution? Conceivably, I have argued, if such an approach is modelled on the 1998 Good Friday Agreement for Ireland. However, it is not a two-state solution that any Zionist would accept. No just political outcome, whether under one state or in two, can preserve a demand for the supremacy of Jewish rights over those of Palestinians.
Ali Abunimah is the author of “One Country: a Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse” (Holt McDougal, £10). A version of this article first appeared in the New Statesman of 23 July 2012