One of my readers asked a question, and since many people think as he does, and because the question deserves a more considered response than a quick email reply, I decided to answer in a complete post. Here is his question:
I am responding to the article “Why Does Israel Only Play Defense?”
Essentially [you are] saying that Israel should annex the entire West Bank and Gaza. But [you do] not tell the reader what would be the status of the roughly four million Arabs in those two areas. Now, Israel can correctly say that the inhabitants of the West Bank and Gaza are not in Israel and continue to be at war with Israel, so that use of the word apartheid is nonsense. That would change if the West Bank and Israel are annexed and the four million – most of whom support Hamas – become Israeli residents.
What is [your] solution? Would the four million still be blocked from freely traveling into the rest of Israel? Would they be Israeli citizens, with the right to vote? If the answer is “no” to both questions, would Israel still be a modern democracy?
The first thing I want to say is that Israel is not, and should not be, a “modern democracy,” which means a “state of its citizens” in which ethnicity plays no official role. Israel, like most of its neighbors, is an ethnic nation-state with an established religion. It is actually quite unique, since unlike its neighbors it is a democracy, and also unlike them, its minorities have full civil rights – both de jure and de facto – including the right to vote and to hold office.
In one sense, Israel strives (and I think does not do a bad job of it) to not discriminate against its non-Jewish citizens. Regarding economic and educational opportunities, they are “first-class citizens.” But in another sense – whose importance cannot be minimized – they are different. The Nation-State Law, which is part of the body of “basic laws” that serves Israel for a constitution, asserts that “[t]he actualization of the right of national self-determination in the state of Israel is unique to the Jewish people.” While this does not make a practical difference for the lives of those who are citizens, it justifies the existence of a Law of Return for Jews – and not for anyone else. It has a great deal to do with who will be citizens. And that is a very concrete difference.
Israel was explicitly founded as a Jewish state and a democratic state. What that means precisely has been a subject for debate. Possible explications range from a state in which civil law is derived from halacha, Jewish law, to a state which embodies “Jewish values,” usually universalist ones like “welcoming the stranger” and “loving your neighbor” – although the original text of those probably doesn’t mean what today’s liberal Jews think it does. But Israel is neither a theocracy like Iran nor a liberal-humanistic state like Sweden, although there are Israelis who would prefer one or the other. In any event, the Nation-State Law is the official definition, coming only 70 years after Israel’s Declaration of Independence proclaimed a Jewish state.
One of the most basic principles of Zionism is that the physical and spiritual preservation of the Jewish people depends on their having a state of their own, rather than being forced to live what turned out to be a precarious existence in a very fickle diaspora. That’s another way to get at the meaning of a “Jewish state”: the state that belongs to the Jewish people.
Although it isn’t strictly relevant to this discussion, I’ll point out that those who want Israel to be a state based on “Jewish values” which turn out to be identical to liberal humanistic ones, would like to define the “Jewish” out of “Jewish state.” And they need to ask themselves whether or not they favor the physical and spiritual preservation of the Jewish people, and, if they think they do, do they believe it can be realized in a world without a Jewish state.
Israel cannot avoid the consequences of its geography. It must control Judea, Samaria, and the Jordan Valley in order to have defensible borders, a necessity in a world where religious demands, imperial ambitions, and avarice ensure that she will always have regional enemies. Israel’s present leadership has tried to keep physical control of the territory, including both a military and civilian presence, without annexing it or even applying Israeli law to the Jewish communities in it. Nevertheless, the official position of the state is that the presence of those communities in disputed territories is entirely legal under international law.
If we believe that our survival depends on maintaining control of an area which has not been legitimately part of any state power since the British Mandate, to which we believe we have a valid (although disputed) claim, in which hundreds of thousands of our citizens live, and to which we also have a powerful historical and religious connection, then why haven’t we annexed the area?
There are two reasons: one is fear of the reaction of the US and Europe, where we have lost the propaganda battle with our enemies, and where the “two-state” fantasy – which almost everyone in our region understands as a stepping-stone to the replacement of Israel by an Arab state – is popularly believed. The other is the question my reader asked. What about those Arabs?
Just as there is an overpowering geostrategic reason that we can’t give up control of the territories, there is a similarly overpowering psychological/ideological one for why we can’t simply absorb their Arab residents. That is the Palestinian Narrative: the belief that Arabs are the aboriginal population of Eretz Yisrael, and that we stole it from them. Along with the unshakeable (though untrue) narrative goes an unyielding commitment to get their land, and their honor, back. Now, several generations after what they refer to as the nakba, the disaster, their narrative and their fervent commitment to expelling the Jews (as violently as possible due to considerations of honor), has a stronger hold on them than ever. Like their Muslim faith – with which it dovetails nicely – it is essentially a religious imperative, which I call Palestinism.
Palestinism is a violent ideology which brooks no compromise. Its first real leader, Amin al-Husseini broadcast anti-Jewish propaganda in Arabic from Berlin during the war, and argued that Hitler should establish extermination camps for the Jews of Middle East as soon as it came under his control (thankfully, the battle at El Alamein went against him). Husseini’s heir Yasser Arafat blackmailed the world with terrorism in the service of the Palestinian struggle to end the Jewish state. Arafat and his successor Mahmoud Abbas rejected numerous offers of statehood because they left room for the continued existence of even an attenuated “Israel.” The idea of a Jewish state in what the Arabs believe to be their land infuriates them. Indeed, even if Israel gave up the idea of being a Jewish state and became a state of its citizens, the “modern state” that the Israeli Left and the American Reform Movement desire, they would still be infuriated.
Even the Arab citizens of pre-1967 Israel are wedded to Palestinism, although pragmatism limits their expressions of rage. From time to time it comes out, as it did this May during the Hamas-provoked conflict with Gaza, when Arab citizens of Israel attacked Jews in mixed cities which previously had been proud of their records of coexistence. There’s no doubt in my mind that increasing the percentage of Arabs in Israel over the present 21% would be highly destabilizing. And when you consider that the Arabs in the territories have been the subject of continuing anti-Israel and antisemitic indoctrination by the Palestinian Authority since it was created in 1993, the absorption of this population would be extremely destructive.
Because of this quasi-religious belief and its violent consequences, the only way to end the conflict is to separate the Arabs from the Jews. The two-staters believe that this can be accomplished by Israel withdrawing from the territories, but that would render the state indefensible; and anyway the Arabs wouldn’t be satisfied and would continue to press for an end to the Jewish state. There are various plans that involve giving the Arabs some kind of autonomy in parts of the territories, either as separate emirates as Mordechai Kedar suggests, or as a demilitarized Palestinian entity in non-strategic places such as was described in the Trump plan. The problem with all of these ideas is the same: the only way to satisfy the Palestinist ideology would be for Israel to disappear. Palestinian political entities in the heart of the Jewish state, no matter how limited, would be centers for terrorism and insurgency.
So “what about those Arabs in the territories?” The answer is simple but the execution will be difficult. Most of them must be encouraged, persuaded, or forced to leave Eretz Yisrael for other Arab countries or the West. It’s not unprecedented. Historically, there are numerous cases of populations migrating due to insoluble ethnic conflicts. Keep in mind that the two-staters see no problem with the idea that hundreds of thousands of Jews who live in the territories should be removed from their homes “for the sake of peace.” And the Arabs don’t hesitate to tell Israeli Jews that they should “go back to Poland” (despite the fact that about half of them came from Arab countries from which they were forced to leave, usually without their property).
But it’s not impossible. Instead of trying to come up with ways to provide aid to the Palestinian Authority and Hamas in order to purchase quiet – aid that is used to support terrorism – resources should be made available to relocate the Palestinian Arabs, as suggested by Martin Sherman. And if that doesn’t work, more coercive means must be employed.
Is this an extreme position? I don’t think so. Sometimes there’s no win-win solution to a conflict. This is a conflict that one side must lose, and the Arabs would have lost a long time ago if the international community hadn’t kept Palestinism on life support. It’s time to pull the plug.