Israel today and a possible Israel tomorrow


Israel’s Separation Wall as seen from Al Ram. Credit: Jillian Kestler-D’Amours/IPS
  • Opinion by Joseph Chamie (Portland, United States)
  • Inter Press Service

In present-day Israel, non-Jewish citizens are treated differently from Jewish citizens, who enjoy certain rights and privileges. In a national poll, most Jewish Israelis, about 80 percent, say Jews should receive preferential treatment in Israel. Also, nearly half of Jewish Israelis say Arab Israelis should be expelled or transferred from Israel.

In addition, several years ago, Israel passed the “nation-state law,” which, among other things, states that the right to exercise national self-determination in Israel is unique to the Jewish people and also established Jewish settlement as a national value. While the nation-state law was embraced by many Jewish Israelis, it was viewed as apartheid by the country’s non-Jewish population, making them ostensible second-class citizens.

In contrast, in a democratic Israel, all Israelis, regardless of their religious affiliation, would have the same rights and privileges. In such a state, justice and equality would apply to the entire population of the country, not just to a single dominant religious group.

A democratic Israel would be similar in many ways to Western liberal democracies such as the United States. In that democracy, all religious groups, including Jewish Americans, have the same rights, privileges, and equality under the law.

Most Jewish Israelis, some 75 percent of the religious spectrum, continue to believe that Israel can be a Jewish state and a democracy. In contrast, non-Jewish Israelis, which include majority Muslims, Christians, and Druze, generally do not believe that Israel can be a Jewish state and a democracy at the same time; it’s just considered inconsistent.

Political, legal and human rights issues for both Israelis and Palestinians are further complicated by the new government’s recent proposals for judicial reform, which would affect the independence of the Israeli Supreme Court.

Many Israelis have taken to the streets to protest against the proposed reform. Objections to the reforms have been voiced by former government officials, military officers, corporate investors and others. Foreign allies, especially officials, Jewish leaders and journalists in America, have also expressed concern about the proposals. In addition, the majority of Israelis, about two-thirds, oppose the proposed judicial reform.

In terms of demographics, the population of Israel at the end of 2022 was 9.656 million. The composition of the population was 74 percent Jewish, 21 percent Arab (mostly Christian and Muslim), and 5 percent other (Figure 1).

In 1948, when Israel was founded, the country’s Jewish share was 82 percent of its population of 806 thousand. In the 1960s, the proportion of Jewish reached a record high of almost 90 percent. Since that peak, the proportion of Jewish in Israel has steadily declined to its current level of 74 percent.

In addition to Israel’s changing demographics, the Jewish Israeli population is not confined to the 1948 borders. Large numbers have expanded into settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

For example, Israel’s Jewish settler population in the West Bank is now estimated at more than half a million. Many of the estimated 700,000 Jewish Israelis now living in the West Bank and East Jerusalem are motivated by their religious mission to return historic Israel to the Jewish people.

The Jewish settler population continues to rapidly increase in the West Bank, which is a top priority of ultra-nationalist parties opposed to a Palestinian state.

The Israeli government has also pledged to legalize wild outposts and increase the approval and construction of settler homes in the West Bank.

In contrast, the United Nations Security Council and much of the international community of nations, including the United States, the European Union and the United Nations, continue to support the idea of ​​an independent Palestinian state. However, changing demographics in the West Bank have all but eliminated the possibility of the two-state solution.

Without the two-state solution, Jewish Israelis face a major challenge that affects their majority status, namely the possibility of the one-state solution.

The one-state solution would involve all of the Israeli and Palestinian populations now living between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. In such a population of about 15 million, the Jewish population would become a ruling minority of about 47 percent, a fundamental change from Israel’s sizable 74 percent Jewish majority today (Figure 2).

Even today, the Israeli government confronts human rights issues with its expansion into the occupied Palestinian territories. International, Israeli and Palestinian human rights organizations and independent observers have determined that Israeli authorities practice apartheid and persecution in the occupied Palestinian territories.

According to those human rights organizations, the policy of the Israeli government is to maintain the domination of Palestinians by Jewish Israelis, as well as the abuses and discriminatory policies against Palestinians living in the occupied territories.

Israel rejects those allegations, saying it is a democracy and is committed to international law and open to scrutiny. The government cites concerns for the safety and protection of Israelis’ lives for imposing travel and related restrictions on Palestinians, whose past violence has included suicide bombings on Israeli cities and deadly attacks on Israelis.

Many have come to the conclusion that given the policies of the current Israeli government, a political path for Israel and an independent Palestinian state to coexist peacefully is just wishful thinking. For some, the two-state solution is effectively dead and just awaiting its formal burial.

In addition, the human cost of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been high and continues to rise. So far in 2023, the conflict has resulted in the deaths of an estimated 63 Palestinians and 13 Israelis.

From 2008 to 2020, the UN-documented numbers killed and injured in the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians were 251 and 5,590 killed, and 5,600 and 115,000 injured, respectively. In short, during that period, about 95 percent of the deaths and injuries caused by the conflict were Palestinians (Figure 3).

It is clear that the Israeli government and many Israelis want to continue the expansion of the Jewish settlers in the West Bank. That expansion clearly has serious consequences for the resident Palestinian population and the Israelis, as well as the prospects for an independent Palestinian state.

The demise of the two-state solution and the possible one-state solution also creates a major foreign and domestic dilemma for the United States, Israel’s main political, military and economic supporter and closest ally.

Israel is the largest recipient of US foreign aid, estimated at more than $3 billion annually and more than $150 cumulatively. Also, America has vetoed numerous United Nations Security Council resolutions critical of Israel, including at least 53 since 1973.

Given America’s commitment to democratic values, freedom from religious beliefs and equality of citizenship, the White House, US senators, congressional representatives and the nation’s citizens will be faced with how to respond to the absence of a potential Palestinian state and Israel’s treatment. of the Palestinians.

Without the two-state solution, it will become increasingly difficult for the United States to continue its unwavering commitment and unequivocal support in the face of Israeli policies and its treatment of the Palestinians. Perhaps, in accordance with its values ​​and laws, America will decide to support the one-state solution with equality for all citizens, regardless of their religious identity.

More importantly, in the absence of a truly independent Palestinian state, Israel can slowly embrace the one-state solution. Ultimately, especially given the inevitable demographic realities strikingly visible on the ground, Israel may come to realize that it is time to transform the Israel of today into a truly democratic Israel of tomorrow with justice and equality for all.

Joseph Chamie is a consulting demographer, former director of the United Nations Population Division and author of numerous publications on population issues, including his recent book, “Population Levels, Trends and Differences”.

© Inter Press Service (2023) — All rights reservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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