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Give the Vote to the Diaspora – Rethinking the Two-State Soltuion

August 30, 2011 – 5:53 pm55 Comments
Mobile army polling station at a military outpost in Kerem Shalom, on the border with Israel and the Gaza Strip

An Israeli soldier carries a ballot box used in voting by soldiers, as part of a mobile army polling station (AP Photo/Kevin Frayer)

By Geoff Bloch

The international community and moderates on both sides of the Israeli Palestinian conflict have, for decades, called for a two-state solution to end the military jurisdiction Israel maintains over some 1.6 million disenfranchised Palestinians living in Yehuda and Shomron, Israel’s ancestral homeland otherwise known as The West Bank. But Jewish settlement over the past 44 years, coupled with the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) insistence on the right of return for millions of refugees into Israel and the PA’s refusal to recognise Israel as a Jewish State, mean that a two-state solution will forever remain a pipedream. It is time to grapple with reality and ask whether there is another solution.

No Israeli government has been prepared to annex the West Bank because that means offering Israeli citizenship to 1.6 million Palestinians. It is feared that such a significant demographic shift would, in time, impair the Jewish character of the State because of inevitable Palestinian and Israeli Arab population growth.

What so enrages the Left is not that Israel gained possession of the West Bank in a defensive war. It is that an indefinite military jurisdiction, coupled with Israeli settlement throughout the West Bank, is tantamount to annexation without offering citizenship and is therefore contrary to the social and democratic values upon which Israel was established. This mainstream festering complaint is constantly heard even from within our own ranks and must be satisfactorily addressed sooner or later.

So we have a classic “Catch 22” situation – Israel cannot annex and confer citizenship on West Bank Palestinians for demographic reasons and Israel cannot withdraw from the West Bank both for security reasons and because there is the small matter that over 600,000 Jews now call the West Bank home.

Even if, under a land swap deal or by annexation, Israel were to retain the main Israeli settlement blocs of The Gush, Maale Adumim, Ramot and Ariel (which collectively account for about 330,000 Jews), some hundreds of thousands of Jews live in areas which would be forfeited to the Palestinians under the kind of land for peace deal contemplated by the world community.

Even worse, were the UN General Assembly on 20 September to recognise a State of Palestine in areas captured by Israel in 1967, then perhaps all or most of those 600,000 Jews could find themselves living in a foreign state.

Because of the Palestinians’ racist condition that a nascent Palestinian state must be Judenrein, there would be civil uproar were there an attempt to evacuate Jewish communities from Yehuda and Shomron. By comparison, the forced expulsion of 8,000 Jews from Gush Qatif in 2005 would look like a non-event. Israel simply cannot afford a repetition of that horrible experience, which pitted Jew against Jew, let alone on a scale 75 times greater! The forfeiture of Gush Qatif was not only an abject failure, but it remains a national disgrace as many evacuees still have not been satisfactorily resettled or compensated over the past 6 years.

The two-state solution, which has for so long been the mainstream paradigm for a peaceful future, is therefore almost certainly illusory and unachievable for practical reasons. The international community and Israel herself must face facts and search for another solution.

After 44 years of settlement activity, Israel has almost certainly passed the point when it might have been practicably possible to annex only parts of the West Bank while avoiding the main centres of Arab population. Today’s reality is that if Israel wishes to retain her ancestral homeland, she must formally annex the West Bank even if that means taking on up to 1.6 million new Palestinian Arab citizens.

Most Israelis, today, would flinch at the prospect. After all, many militant Palestinians call for a one-state solution, believing that Palestinian population growth will outstrip Jewish population growth so that, sooner or later, there will be a majority Arab population between the Jordan river and the Mediterranean Sea.

There may be a peaceful solution to this seemingly intractable problem – a solution which does not involve Israel forfeiting Yehuda and Shomron and does not compromise the Jewish character of the State. But understanding the solution calls for a basic understanding of some critical arithmetic.

There are currently 5.8 million Jewish Israeli citizens and 1.4 million Arab Israeli citizens. Jews outnumber Arabs by about 3.6:1. If Israel annexed the West Bank, the number of her Arab citizens would increase by 1.6 million to 3 million (assuming all Arabs took up citizenship), reducing the ratio of Jews to Arabs to 1.9:1.

The current rate of net population increase of Jews in Israel even taking aliya into account is 1.7% per annum. The current rate of net population increase of Israeli Arabs is 2.6% per annum.

Although opinions vary, there could be an Arab majority between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea within two generations at current trends.

Israel’s Declaration of Independence, which reflects the UN General Assembly resolution of 29 November, 1947, contains two laudable objectives which, tragically, appear to be on a collision course, regardless whether or not Israel annexes the West Bank. On the one hand, the Declaration calls for “…the establishment of a Jewish State in Eretz-Israel” while, on the other hand, it guarantees “complete equality of social and political rights to all her inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex…”

It is conceivable that Israeli Arabs could one day control the Knesset, the army, the treasury, the police force and immigration policy. While this would be entirely consistent with liberal democratic values, things could change dramatically and adversely for the Jewish population. It may be politically incorrect to say so, but Arabs cannot be expected to identify with a flag which represents the Star of David emblazoned on a tallit or with a national anthem invoking nefesh Yehudi homiya - 2000 years of yearning of the Jewish soul for a Jewish homeland.

How, then, can Israel retain Yehuda and Shomron without trammelling the Palestinians’ social and democratic rights and without compromising the Jewish character of the State? Perhaps a solution is a variant of the obvious but unachievable goal of increasing Israel’s Jewish population so dramatically, that it outstrips the increase of her non-Jewish population. The solution is this: At the very same time as annexing Yehuda and Shomron and offering Israeli citizenship to Palestinian Arabs, Israel could amend her existing Law of Return, drawing upon Diaspora Jewry to increase the Jewish voting population by permitting Diaspora Jews to apply for Israeli citizenship without physically making aliya.

Israel’s Law of Return (enacted in 1950) already discriminates, justifiably, between Jew and Arab by granting a right to every Jew to Israeli citizenship upon making aliya. No such right is granted to Arabs. Granting citizenship to Diaspora Jewry is, in concept, perfectly consistent with the Law of Return. It could be augmented by an amendment to Israeli electoral laws so as to permit several hundreds of thousands of expatriate Israelis to vote from abroad as well.

Were this initiative properly promoted and coordinated through the World Zionist movement, millions of new Jewish citizens could be added to the Israeli electoral rolls and the impending political demographic shift could be staved off, effectively forever, given that there are millions of Jews of voting age in the Diaspora.

Most importantly, this initiative would not disenfranchise a single Israeli Arab, unless putting racial pre-eminence beyond their reach is to be regarded as a discreditable objective. It cannot reasonably be viewed as such given that the UN itself resolved that there be “a Jewish State in Eretz-Israel”. The world community should not be at all concerned about who Israel grants citizenship to, so long as the social and democratic rights of all her citizens are not adversely affected.

Increasing the Jewish voting population is to be preferred to other peaceful solutions which could bear adversely upon those rights. For example, given that the vast majority of Israeli Arabs live in the Galilee and the northern coastal plain and the vast majority of West Bank Palestinians live in and around Hebron and Shechem, it is theoretically possible for Israel to undergo constitutional reform and introduce parliamentary representation by electorate with a gerrymander ensuring Jewish control of the Knesset. Most right-minded citizens (let alone world opinion) would find anything short of one man, one vote, highly objectionable and would reject any such solution.

Of course this solution is presently unworkable given the current Israeli body politic, for a number of reasons. For example, Jewish Israelis would resent an equal vote being given to non-resident Jewish citizens to whom domestic issues would be of little importance and who have not demonstrated the ultimate commitment to Israel by making aliya. Jewish Israelis would also resent non-resident Jewish citizens voting when they do not have to live with the consequences of the political choices they make. Israelis might also be concerned about whether the contribution to Israel’s state revenues by an increased population would offset the inevitable increased cost of social and welfare programmes.

However, over time, as Israel’s Arab constituency inexorably moves toward a majority and as world opinion to the current “occupation” intensifies, increasing numbers of Jewish Israelis would come to acknowledge the gravity of the problem and would be prepared to accept the imperative of finding a workable solution. Given that more draconian solutions such as population transfer are far beyond Israel’s moral compass, there is perhaps no other peaceful solution.

At the moment Israel is faced with two inter-related problems which have a common denominator. There is the pending demographic shift which has been met with a deafening silence; and there is the current problem of Israel’s occupation and military jurisdiction over the West Bank which has been met with a deafening cacophony.

The common denominator to solving both problems may be you and me and the rest of the Jewish Diaspora. The time may soon come for Israel to act unilaterally once again, in the absence of a negotiated settlement. But this time, instead of forfeiting land and her security as occurred in Southern Lebanon and Gaza, Israel could retain both her land and her security by annexing the West Bank, by offering citizenship to Palestinian Arabs and by amending the Law of Return. With some lateral thinking, the Jewish Diaspora might just hold the key to solving both problems simultaneously.

Geoffrey Bloch is a Melbourne based barrister.

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