Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The End of Jew-rusalem and the Beginning of What...?

Continuing the trend of blogging about unsettling news stories, I couldn't help but react in dismay as I read this article about the Jewish population crisis in Jerusalem. As it turns out, within 30 years the city may be 50% Arab, thanks to a 3-4% growth rate that has seen the Arab population grow 257 percent since '67, compared to only 140 percent by the Jews. Compounding the problem is that Israeli's just don't want to seem to live in Jerusalem in the first place. Israeli flight, with 17,300 Israelis (mostly young professionals looking for lower cost of living and better jobs) leaving annually, has been a problem for some time.

Yet, what concerns me is not the loss of Jerusalem's Jewish identity and majority, but rather what actions the state will take to retard -- or stop -- a demographic problem which in reality is a microcosm of the larger crisis facing all of Israel. So far the official response has been a series of progressive measures with a bit of the illegal thrown in: Israel's going to pump $1.5 billion into social services, build schools, relocate government agencies to within the city, and build 20,000 settler units in East Jerusalem.

So long as Jewish population and immigration growth remains low, however, these solutions are only delaying a problem the state will have to address some day. In his famous 2003 New York Review of Books essay, Tony Judt expressed the problem in the following way (I quote at length):

In one vital attribute, however, Israel is quite different from previous insecure, defensive microstates born of imperial collapse: it is a democracy. Hence its present dilemma. Thanks to its occupation of the lands conquered in 1967, Israel today faces three unattractive choices. It can dismantle the Jewish settlements in the territories, return to the 1967 state borders within which Jews constitute a clear majority, and thus remain both a Jewish state and a democracy, albeit one with a constitutionally anomalous community of second-class Arab citizens.

Alternatively, Israel can continue to occupy "Samaria," "Judea," and Gaza, whose Arab population—added to that of present-day Israel—will become the demographic majority within five to eight years: in which case Israel will be either a Jewish state (with an ever-larger majority of unenfranchised non-Jews) or it will be a democracy. But logically it cannot be both.

Or else Israel can keep control of the Occupied Territories but get rid of the overwhelming majority of the Arab population: either by forcible expulsion or else by starving them of land and livelihood, leaving them no option but to go into exile. In this way Israel could indeed remain both Jewish and at least formally democratic: but at the cost of becoming the first modern democracy to conduct full-scale ethnic cleansing as a state project, something which would condemn Israel forever to the status of an outlaw state, an international pariah.

Anyone who supposes that this third option is unthinkable above all for a Jewish state has not been watching the steady accretion of settlements and land seizures in the West Bank over the past quarter-century, or listening to generals and politicians on the Israeli right, some of them currently in government. The middle ground of Israeli politics today is occupied by the Likud. Its major component is the late Menachem Begin's Herut Party. Herut is the successor to Vladimir Jabotinsky's interwar Revisionist Zionists, whose uncompromising indifference to legal and territorial niceties once attracted from left-leaning Zionists the epithet "fascist." When one hears Israel's deputy prime minister, Ehud Olmert, proudly insist that his country has not excluded the option of assassinating the elected president of the Palestinian Authority, it is clear that the label fits better than ever. Political murder is what fascists do.

Since Judt's essay, of course, Israel's demographic reality has gotten worse and not better; its political establishment has turned more rightward, not less. Judt's proposal, along with Virginia Tilley's, is one form or the other of a one-state, binantional solution. My own view is that in a perfect world, such a proposal would be the perfect solution, but that it remains to be seen that such an idea could somehow prove to be the exception in terms of the violent history of multiethnic/religious states.

That said, as the debate heats up in the coming weeks, months, and years as to just what Israel should do given its demographic problem, it's extremely important that neocon and right-wing arguments don't win out for the failure of a reasonable alternative. When the argument is made that "the only way to maintain/save Israel (from the Muslim hordes) is by doing X,Y, and Z egregious actions" there's no reason a very loud voice shouldn't shout back: "If the status quo is dependent on X,Y, and Z, who needs it!"


Blogger Austin 5-000 said...

I agree. A good place to start might be decreasing our own country's funding for Israel's military, etc. Such funding makes aggressive actions relatively cheaper when compared with alternatives such as mediation, integration, and withdrawal.
But, more importantly, it's money that just hasn't produced any desirable results. How much effort, political goodwill, and money are we going to sink into right-wing Israelis dreams of regional dominance? Like most Americans, I support Israel's existence, but the status quo policy reduces Israel's chances of surviving. We need to consider how our desires to see Israel survive and prosper line up with the policies we have implemented to further those desires.

11:19 AM  
Blogger Scantron said...

Well, I would hope that people would realize that the status quo is bad for Israel's interest, but I don't know if it's bad for their survival. At least, the only major player I can think of that's really dangerous is Iran, but I don't see them being any easier on Israel even if a Palestinian state is created. I dunno, I definitely think/hope a resolution will bring greater peace to the region, but realistically I'm not sure that Israel will ever be more in danger than other countries in the region are already from it and the U.S.

Things look really, really bad on the Israel/Palestine front. Obviously, not as bad as last summer, when 402 Palestinians, 5 IDF troops, and 6 Israeli civilians were killed in the fighting following the Shalit kidnapping. But I think things are only going to get worse. It sounds as though Hamas is carrying out coordinated assassinations against Fatah officials. They've rebuked Abbas for deploying security forces without their consent and giving away "classified information" to "foreign agents." The latter of these claims I would actually not completely count out. It's almost redundant to say that the U.S. and Israel favor Fatah in the conflict and are willing to work with them. Also, the whole situation has given the government of Israel reason to engage in several airstrikes, which may become many airstrikes soon enough.

Meanwhile, on our domestic front, the story is that Deputy National Security Advisor Elliott Abrams is telling people that Rice's gestures of peace are only "process for the sake of process" and that the President won't actually let the peace talks "get out of hand." That's from Shmuel Rosner at Haaretz:

Sounds promising.

I think the current situation is such that people are going to wait and see what happens between Hamas and Fatah (and aid Fatah, too) before doing anything, especially before halting settlements.

Also, derisive sneers along the lines of "and how is it going to be Israel's fault this time?" notwithstanding, this situation perhaps could have been avoided if the aid embargoes had been lifted after the formation of the unity government in March. They weren't, because Hamas officials were saying that resistance to occupation was a legitimate right (strike 1) and that they would never enter into a government that recognized Israel (strike 2). On the other hand, out of the other side of their mouth they were saying that the resistance would end when Israel withdrew to the pre-67 borders, and they were willing to engage in an extensive ceasefire in order to lift the embargo and get withdrawal underway. That wasn't good enough, and so we're roughly where we are today, as I see it.

In summation, the U.S. and Israel want Hamas out. There's a growing chance of this (or some other catastrophic event) happening, so things aren't going to get any less violent. Since the big Palestinian unity government plan has effectively failed, don't expect anything good for a while.

9:56 PM  
Blogger Scantron said...

Also, Austin, I just noticed this on Reuters:

So much for Plan A!

11:52 PM  

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