By Jonathan Power*
It’s unbelievable that 102 years have passed since the Balfour Declaration when the British colonial government decided to give the Jews their own homeland – but also promised that “it be done without infringing on the civil and religious rights of the existing non-Jewish population”.
Now, this month, the Trump Administration has announced that the Jewish settlements on West Bank Palestinian land are no longer illegal. No matter the rest of the world is against this, the Palestinians face the possibility that 60% of the West Bank will be covered with Israeli settlements. 40% will be left as disconnected and isolated Palestinian cantons. There are now about 400,000 settlers.
The much-discussed two-state solution is dead. As the former Secretary of State, John Kerry, once said, there is a distinct possibility that Israel will now become “an apartheid state”. In terms of population Israelis are about the same as Palestinians but Israel’s military might is omnipotent. This is what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has long being pushing for – a Greater Israel. Although Netanyahu is struggling to form a minority government, a recent poll show that 48% of Jewish Israelis are behind Netanyahu on this issue.
The Palestinians, liberally minded Jews and much of the international community has strongly argued for a two-state solution for decades, even though, if enacted, that would have given the Palestinians much less land than the British originally countenanced.
Interestingly, a poll conducted last year by the University of Maryland found that Americans were roughly evenly split between supporting a two-state solution and supporting a one state with equal rights for all inhabitants. When asked what they preferred if a two-state solution were not possible, the status quo or one state with equal rights, they chose the latter by a two-to-one margin.
This is the correct answer – and there are some signs that there is movement in that direction – not so much on the Israeli side but among the two million Arabs who live inside Israel, discriminated against in many ways but possessing the vote. In this latest election in September, Israeli-Arabs united together in the Arab Alliance and, instead of their vote being split as before, could become, once a new government is formed, Israel’s largest opposition party.
In the many years of trying to negotiate a two-state solution the Palestinians have been compelled to concede too much. They have agreed that the return of refugees to their ancestral towns and villages would not be allowed and thus would remain for yet another generation in miserable refugee camps. They’ve accepted that Israel would not offer full equality to Palestinian citizens of Israel.
What would happen if there were one state? In one scenario, since the populations of Jews and Arabs are equally balanced, elections would be breathless runs to the finishing post and the Arabs in coalition with liberal Jews would be the victor. Unlikely.
The South African analogy is telling or rather, its differences are telling. On the one hand, there would not be an all-Arab government. The Palestinians would be only half of the population. They could only rule effectively if they had substantial number of liberal Jewish voters on their side.
To woo the enough Jewish parties into the government, the Arabs would have to forsake claiming the role of prime minister and minister of defence. The Palestinians would have to accept a massive birth control program to bring down the Arab population growth to that of Israeli Jews.
(For their part conservative Jewish parties would have to learn how to attract conservative Arab voters, not an impossible task given the common puritanism of much Jewish and Muslim religious practice.)
Israel does not have a constitution. It would have to write one. This would commit Israel to democracy and full observance of human rights.
The new Israel would begin by repatriating Palestinian refugees. It would also accept Palestinians into its military forces although allowing for conscientious objection in return for doing important civilian jobs such as nursing, ambulance and fire services.
It would use bussing as a tool of integration. As European practice has shown, multiculturalism where the populations are free to live among their own kind does not work over the long run. It produces or reinforces the making of ghettos, and then later of crime. Integration is needed – of schools, jobs and housing in particular.
It would need a big program of higher education and technical training so that Arab citizens can upgrade their skills. There would need to be good credit and agricultural/industrial advice to help Arab businesses on their way.
The Jews would come out of this well. They would have their homeland but they would have to share it as they have throughout history. They would also have the precious quality they don’t have yet – peace.
* Jonathan Power was for 17 years a foreign affairs columnist and commentator for the International Herald Tribune. Copyright: Jonathan Power. Website www.jonathanpowerjournalist.com.