Israel faces historic decision as new population figures emerge

An ultra-Orthodox Jewish man walks next to Palestinian women in Jerusalem’s Old City, Sep 10, 2015. (photo: Ammar Awad / Reuters)

Israel is far from being an apartheid state currently, but if it opts for minority rule of an Arab majority, it will have no choice but to adopt apartheid methods.

By Yossi Beilin | Al-Monitor | Apr 3, 2018

The updated population data have once again placed the inherent tension between Israel’s Jewish and democratic nature in the forefront of the political arena. While Israeli liberal-minded political forces argue that there is no contradiction and that Israel can be both Jewish and democratic, others on the political right and the left reject the idea.

The Israeli political right was caught off guard by the surprising official figures presented on March 26 at the Knesset by a representative of the Civil Administration, the army unit coordinating the Israeli government’s activities in the occupied territories. The representative indicated that the number of Jews and Arabs living under Israeli control in the area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean had reached parity at 6.5 million for each side.

Over the years, the Zionist left kept warning about the prospect of a Jewish minority in Israel controlling a Palestinian majority, with only a small number of them enjoying full civil rights. Yet the Israeli right kept dismissing these warnings. It countered with imaginary data showing that some 3 million Palestinians live in Israel and the occupied territories, compared with 6.5 million Jews. However, from the moment the true numbers were communicated to the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee with the new data last week by the Israel Defense Forces, the leadership of the political right can no longer argue that political bias is skewing the figures. It is now forced to confront the figures. . . .

Nationalist elements, which oppose dividing the land between Israelis and Palestinians, suggest ensuring the country’s Jewish character by imposing sovereignty over all the Palestinians living in Israel and the occupied territories. This scenario would grant the Palestinians in the occupied territories individual rights, but not the right to vote for the Knesset. The non-Zionist left also proposes one state for both people, but insists on full equality for the Palestinians, including the right to vote and be elected to the Knesset. That would allow a future Palestinian Arab majority to override Israel’s unique Jewish nature, especially when it comes to encouraging Jewish immigration, strengthening the state’s ties with diaspora Jewry and even amending the Law of Return that currently enables all Jews to obtain citizenship if they move to Israel.

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