Israel: A New Narrative
By Asher Zelig Fried
As Israel’s leadership digs in its heels in the face of escalating Palestinian demands for statehood, the Jewish State faces a new, rapidly changing dynamic. The Palestinian Authority’s intent to seek United Nations recognition of a new Arab state based on pre-1967 borders this fall, coupled with the recent reconciliation between the Authority and Hamas, further complicates the issue.
The Palestinians’ plan to submit a proposal for statehood to the UN Security Council this September anticipates a veto by the United States, to be followed assuredly by presentation to the General Assembly, where the PA is confident of winning the required two-thirds majority. This newly adopted unilateral strategy, which effectively rejects negotiations with Israel, declares the Palestinian entity’s intent to bypass Israel entirely on its path to statehood.
In preparation for September, the Palestinians have initiated an international campaign for support, so far gaining ground in South America where a majority of nations now recognize the state of Palestine. This strategy has achieved significant inroads in Europe and at the UN as well; a recent PA-sponsored Security Council resolution condemning Israel for illegally building settlements in Judea, Samaria, and Jerusalem received the support of 14 of the 15 members of the Council and included Israel’s ostensible allies, Britain, France and Germany. Only an eleventh-hour veto by the US allowed Israel to escape worldwide condemnation.
While the Obama administration has publicly criticized Palestinian unilateralism, behind the scenes it has labored to empower the Quartet (the US, the European Union, Russia, and the UN) to supplant the US as sole mediator in the Middle East. In response, the Quartet is working on its own plan for Palestinian statehood – to determine the timing of the declaration, the division of Jerusalem, and the new states’ geographical borders – to be presented to Israel as a fait accompli. With this as backdrop, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently declared her plans for “a new push to promote a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace.”
If there is broad consensus within Israel on any single issue, it’s that the country’s insistence on maintaining the status quo has caused a precipitous deterioration in its geopolitical status. Branded a militant and inflexible occupier of another people’s land, Israel is regarded as a pariah nation not interested in peace. Hostility toward Israel and Israelis has reached a new low, and Israel’s elected officials, military officers, journalists, and university professors have been treated as personae non gratae in the West, some even subject to arrest. The Palestinian-initiated BDS (Boycott, Divestiture, and Sanctions) campaign, its objective to further isolate Israel and thereby undermine her economically, enjoys broad grassroots support. The model for BDS and parallel efforts to delegitimize Israel in the international press and academia mirrors the movement to end apartheid in South Africa. In the face of such pressure, the Israeli status quo has become ever more difficult to sustain.
Paradoxically, Israeli proponents of maintaining the country’s current position can be heard publicly espousing support for a two-state solution and bemoaning the suspension in negotiations, while privately they view the two-state solution as an existential challenge they are not confident Israel’s can survive. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in advance of his address to the U.S. Congress, outlined his ‘redline’ positions for abiding Palestinian statehood, confident the Palestinians will never agree to such requirements.
For their part, the Palestinians have made it clear they will never accept Jewish sovereignty even in pre-1967 Israel. President Mahmoud Abbas will not utter the words “Jewish state,” and many within the Palestinian leadership call openly for Israel’s annihilation. For Hamas, now reconciled with the Palestinian Authority, the obliteration of Israel remains a prime component of its charter. The two-state solution – stillborn in 1948, reconjured for the 1993 Oslo Accords – remains a fantasy, with no more agreement between the parties now than 18 years ago. In the interim, irreconcilable differences morphed into agreements never implemented, ongoing incitement to hatred, murderous intifadas, and the constant specter of terrorism.
With Israel at a precipice, its future in the balance, a new paradigm is desperately needed. More than at any time since its founding, the Jewish State needs its leaders to craft a new and unifying narrative, one that will inspire the nation and serve as a vision for its future. A narrative that will unequivocally declare Israel’s permanent borders, define its relationship to its Jewish and Arab communities, establish its rightful place among the family of nations, and proclaim its inalienable right to its ancestral heartland.
The narrative begins with borders as borders are integral to security, and without security there is no Israel. As President Ronald Reagan once famously said, “A nation without borders is not a nation.” In geographic terms, this applies to no other nation as it does to Israel. Unfortunately, no one can currently delineate with precision Israel’s borders, or Jerusalem’s borders, or where they might lie under any future agreement. With the fate of many communities uncertain, their residents unsure if their homes and properties will be considered part of the State, lives are destabilized and a nation is disheartened by doubt.
In that Israel’s borders are the nation’s first line of defense, it is essential they provide a modicum of strategic depth should they be breached. A country only nine miles wide at its center is indefensible, an axiomatic assessment currently shared by virtually every Israeli and American military expert and articulated as early as 1967 by both U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Earl Wheeler. Following the Six-Day War, Israeli foreign minister Abba Eban dubbed Israel’s perilous borders of 1949-1967 the “Auschwitz Borders.”
Adjacent to this nine-mile demarcation line lies Israel’s central mountain range, which straddles Judea and Samaria north-to-south as it slopes towards the coastal plain. Israel’s coastal plain is home to 70% of the country’s population, 80% of its industrial capacity, and Ben Gurion International Airport. No country can survive with its major population centers and only major airfield in close proximity to potential terrorist bases and vulnerable to devastating Gaza-style rocket and mortar bombardments. The central highlands and the significant defensive advantage they provide must remain with Israel.
Given the Middle East’s notorious instability and Israel’s historic record of attack from all sides -- i.e. Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Iraq -- secure borders safeguarding maximum strategic depth are an absolute imperative. Decades since the Allon Plan of 1967, Israel’s leading military analysts continue to warn that Israel’s survival depends on its military control of the Jordan Valley. The Jordan Valley, with its high ridgelines, provides a natural barrier against the threat of hostile armies from the east. Israel’s previous narrative, of borders “from the River to the Sea,” must be revived.
The narrative proclaims Israel as a free, democratic, and Jewish society. What then of the widely heralded theory of the ‘demographic time bomb,’ which postulates that an Israel which retains Judea and Samaria will have an Arab majority and thus be neither Jewish nor democratic? In fact, the ‘demographic time bomb’ is a fraudulent claim wielded to convince Israel to surrender its heartland in order to facilitate the creation of a Palestinian state in its place. Perpetrated by the Palestinian Authority and its supporters, this falsehood has been repeated by countless pundits, including Tom Friedman in recent articles, and President Obama just days ago.
The numbers however tell the truth. On the eve of Israel’s 63rd Independence Day, the Central Bureau of Statistics reported Israel’s population at 7.7 million, with 5.84 million Jews comprising 75.3% and 1.59 million Arabs representing 20.5%. The report included Jews on both sides of the (pre-1967) Green Line, but did not include the approximately 1.5 million Arabs who live beyond the Green Line (as reported by the American-Israel Demographic Research Group.) By including these 1.5 million Arabs, the overall population increases to 9.2 million. This reduces the Jewish population to 64.5% and increases the Arab population to 33.5% of all persons residing west of the Jordan River (not including Gaza). Note that at 64-65%, the Jewish majority west of the Jordan River has not changed for the past 40 years, however a dramatic demographic change has taken place in Judea and Samaria. While the Arab birth rate has declined precipitously from its peak in the late 1980s of approximately 8 children per family to barely 4.5 today, the Jewish birth rate has increased by 35% since 1995; today it represents the highest rate in the industrialized world. Recently, Arab-Jewish birth rates in Jerusalem have converged at 3.9 per family. Explanations for the decline in the Arab sector include more advanced education, changing living conditions, and other socio-economic factors.
Immigration to Israel, highlighted by massive numbers from the former Soviet Union and supplemented by smaller groups from the U.S., France, South Africa and South America, has contributed to Israel’s growing Jewish population. By contrast, Arab emigration, estimated at 500,000 since 1967, approximates 10,000 per year from Judea and Samaria alone. The Arab Christian community in particular has experienced extensive departure in response to Moslem persecution. The resultant demographics now favor Israel and its effort to reclaim Judea and Samaria and unify Israel’s ancestral heartland with the modern State.
Citizens of Israel must be aware of the rights and protections to which they are all entitled. Whether Jew or Arab, Druze or Christian, or of no religious affiliation, all are entitled to live peacefully on the land, build its communities, enjoy its bounty, and worship freely. Additionally, all citizens are entitled to full political representation, with the understanding that political representatives and entities must function within the legal framework of Israel’s political process.
The anathema of irredentist political entities that threaten the security of Israel must not be permitted. That the Palestinian Authority functions as a government independent of Israel, claims control over Israeli land, and entertains foreign visitors hostile to Israel is a disgrace that diminishes Israel’s standing as a sovereign nation. The PA’s maintenance of a separate 3000-man, U.S.-armed and trained military force further erodes Israel’s autonomy and presents a vital danger to Israel; it should be disbanded. Members of that force have stated that in the event of a conflict, they are prepared to take up arms against Israel. Why Israel allows this to continue defies rationality.
As a minority community, Israel’s Arabs face issues similar to minority communities in nations across the world. Israel’s Arabs however enjoy more political freedom, greater per capita economic potential, better educational opportunities, and superior health care than their brethren in most Arab countries. Arabs in Israel serve as members of Knesset and local mayors, are represented in all professions, trades, and businesses. Arab families shop in Israel’s malls, frequent Israel’s parks, and send their children to its public schools and universities. While enlightened countries do their best to embrace minority communities, challenges persist. In this light, Israel deserves credit for its efforts to integrate its diverse communities.
While most Israelis have no desire to “rule over Arabs,” minority populations exist in virtually every country on earth, and Israel is no exception. As it would be absurd to assert that in the US Caucasians “rule over” minority African-Americans and Hispanics, or that Canadian Anglos rule over minority French Canadians, so too it is absurd to suggest that Israeli Jews rule over Arabs. The overwhelming majority of Jews and Arabs in Israel want nothing more than to live peacefully, raise their families, and go about their lives. Israel cannot divide itself in two, surrender its heartland, sovereignty in Jerusalem, and accept a security threat of existential magnitude, because of the difficulties of integrating its minority populations.
The goal of Israel’s new narrative is to provide a vision, to unify and inspire a beleaguered nation. The borders it proclaims are to be secure and permanent. It returns Israel’s ancestral heartland to the Jewish people. It guarantees Jewish sovereignty in all of Jerusalem and access to its holy places. It defines Israel as free, democratic, and Jewish, granting religious and political freedom to all its citizens. It calls for only one government, only one army, and only one nation, Israel, as sovereign on this hallowed land. This narrative creates a new paradigm, one which calls for Israel to proclaim its rightful place in the modern family of nations.