Roger Cohen writes: Peace talks, it seems, are set to resume between Israelis and Palestinians after six visits to the region by Secretary of State John Kerry.
The heart sinks.
Israel and Palestine need a two-state peace. It would involve bitter compromises on both sides, but no more bitter than those accepted by Nelson Mandela in putting the future before the past, hope before grievance.
Without a two-state peace, Israel cannot remain a Jewish and democratic state because over time there will be more Arabs than Jews between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.
The growth of the Palestinian population — the capacity for Arabs to breed faster than Jews — seems to be treated like a law of physics and has long been termed by liberal Zionists as a “demographic threat.” Even if Cohen doesn’t use the phrase, he defines the concept. It’s all the more ironic that he should at the same time appeal to the example of Nelson Mandela — who embodies the spirit of reconciliation — when advocating a plan for peace based on separation.
Outside the context of Israel, anyone who dares to speak about a “demographic threat” will swiftly and justifiably be branded a racist. In the United States, no doubt there are members of the Tea Party caucus in Congress who view the growth of America’s Latino population as a demographic threat both to the Republican Party and to American identity, but everyone knows that they couldn’t get away with using this phrase in public discourse.
But when it comes to Israel, peace-desiring liberal Zionists like Roger Cohen, see absolutely no problem in supporting the idea that Israel’s existence as a Jewish state utterly depends on Jewish majority rule. (No one cares to specify exactly how large that majority must be, but there is seemingly no conflict between this assertion of majority rule and the claim that as a Jewish state, Israel can also be democratic.)
What if actual demographics turned out to match purported demographic threat?
In the Jerusalem Post, Paul Morland notes:
According to Neve Gordon, a geographer at Ben-Gurion University, and Yinon Cohen, an academic at Columbia, births to Jews living in the West Bank have grown five-fold in the past 20 years, while Jews moving to the West Bank have more than halved in number. Overwhelmingly today, the growth of the Jewish population in the settlements is organic and due to a high birth rate rather than to arrival from pre-1967 Israel. Gordon and Cohen’s work suggests that the fertility rate of the burgeoning ultra-Orthodox population in Judea and Samaria [the West Bank] is now no less than two-and-a-half times that of the local Arab population.
This information should be handled with care. It does not have a direct bearing on the hotly debated question of the total number of Arabs living in the West Bank and what the impact of their incorporation within Israel would be. Nor does it necessarily suggest that Jews will grow as a share of the population of Israel with or without the West Bank; issues of mortality as well as fertility will impact this, and so will movements of populations in and out of the area.
However, it is worth noting that, at least within Israel itself, Arab demographic momentum is flagging.
Morland doesn’t reach the following conclusion, but let’s suppose the so-called demographic threat has been over-estimated and that superior Jewish reproduction rates could guarantee that within a Greater Israel which absorbed the West Bank and its Palestinian population, Jews could indeed sustain a comfortable majority (at this point forget about attempting to define what comfortable might mean).
Where would this leave the liberal Zionists? Would the idea of an expanded Israel in which Palestinians were given the rights of citizenship start to sound more palatable if Jewish majority rule could nevertheless be ensured?
A few years ago I saw a promotional video for J Street in which an American rabbi was asked to describe what a Jewish state meant to her and she said quite simply that it is a state where Jews are “in charge.”
Being in charge; maintaining a majority — these seem to be nothing more than ways of describing domination.
And then there are the less liberal Zionists such Uzi Arad, Benjamin Netanyahu’s former national security adviser. He was much more blunt when he said: “We want to relieve ourselves of the burden of the Palestinian populations – not territories. It is territory we want to preserve, but populations we want to rid ourselves of.”
Cohen claims that peace talks now offer a way “back to the Zionist dream.”
Maybe like most, it’s a dream that’s hard to make sense of once one awakes.