The rightist call for Palestinian recognition of a Jewish state as a precondition for renewing the diplomatic process, a call that received the odd backing of Ehud Barak, attests to a failure to grasp demographic realities and could lead to the Jewish State’s demise.
At this point, it is clear that such call means the maintenance of the status quo and the thwarting of any plan to divide the country. Moreover, the idea completely contradicts the cautious policies adopted by our founding fathers ever since Jewish settlement here started.
The founders of the Yishuv (the Jewish community prior to Israel’s establishment) realized back then that in order to establish a Jewish democratic country we must dedicate the utmost attention to demographic figures, because they will be the decisive factor in the long run. In fact, as early as the Ottoman kingdom, the first Zionists chose to settle in low-density areas. They understood that instead of reconstructing King Solomon’s rule and rebuilding the Temple, it would be better for them to settle in an area where they would constitute a Jewish majority and be able to develop a national, social, cultural, and political center.
At that time already, the Jews did not turn to the holy sites, such as Nablus, Hebron, Jericho, and Jerusalem, where a Muslim or Christian majority already existed. They chose to settle in the low-density coastal strip between Jaffa and Haifa, and in the western Galilee region near towns with a Jewish majority such as Tiberias and Safed. The Jewish “creating facts on the ground” policy was implemented in areas of low Palestinian population density, and not by coincidence.
In 1947, the vast majority of the Yishuv’s leadership accepted the United Nations’ partition decision, because it realized that following World War II reality has changed, and there is new international recognition of the right of a people to control its own destiny (the Palestinian rejection of the partition proposal is the basis of the Palestinian people’s tragedy to this very day.)
Even at the end of the War of Independence, Israeli Prime Minister David Ben Gurion rejected, based on demographic reasons, Yigal Allon’s proposal to take over large parts of the West Bank and rule areas with an Arab majority.
‘South Africa syndrome’
Genuine disagreement over the demographic issue only emerged in the wake of the Six Day War. For the first time, part of the Jewish Israeli public agreed to give up the demand for a Jewish majority, and instead demanded that recognition of the Jewish state be forced through its superiority and power. For the first time, we also saw the emergence of a demand to implement characteristics of an apartheid regime, according to which the country’s character is not determined by the majority, but rather, by the attributes of a certain population group.
As we know, this is almost a soft definition of racism, but as is customary around here it is enveloped by a veneer of security, religious, and messianic reasons.
Paradoxically, those who parted from the policy of demographic considerations and established the settlements at the heart of the territories, due to a political objective of eliminating any possibility for a future diplomatic two-state solution, are the ones who today head the calls for an Arab and a Palestinian recognition of the State of Israel as a Jewish state.
The tragedy that may materialize is that those who espouse a one-state solution and show contempt to demographic considerations could ultimately bring about the State of Israel’s elimination as a Jewish state. Their demand to recognize a Jewish state as a trick aimed at achieving political obstruction would ultimately lead to a “South Africa syndrome” around here; immense economic pressures and a demand for a compromise deal premised on a legislature with a Palestinian majority and the end of Israel as the Jewish state.
Avshalom Vilan is a Meretz Knesset member; Maurice Stroun is a biology professor at University of Geneva