The Civil Administration’s report on the demographic issue, which was presented this week to the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, burst the imagined bubble that has been constructed by opponents of the two-state solution. Proponents of annexation have been spreading fabricated statistics for years in order to hide the demographic balance, which maintains the basic tension that accompanied the Zionist movement from the beginning of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the decision that is required by it. The demographic balance, that has been presented, between the Jews and the Arabs, requires the Israeli leadership to come back and re-determine its choice between two of the three basic goals of the Zionist movement and Israel: to be a democratic state, to be a Jewish state in its national sense and to be in the entire territory of Mandatory Palestine.

The existence of a non-Jewish majority in the Land of Israel, during most of the 100 years of conflict, is not a product of an Arab demographic upheaval but a product of the fact that at the time the Balfour Declaration was issued in 1917 and the approval of the Mandate in 1922, the Jewish population was only ten percent of the country’s entire population, and since then the Zionist movement has failed to achieve a significant Jewish majority between the sea and the Jordan River.

It was a tremendous and unprecedented challenge for the Zionist movement and the British Empire  to implement the two-component declaration; the first component being, “a Jewish national home,, and the second that it is to be established “on the clear condition that nothing is done that might harm the civil and religious rights of non-Jewish communities in the Land of Israel.” In other words, a democratic state for the Jewish people. Ze’ev Jabotinsky addressed this challenge in his speech given to the Eretz Israel Council in 1919: “In other countries, where the whole nation lives on their land, where all the citizens are sitting on their land – this framework is easy and simple (for establishing a state); But this is not the case in our country, which is subject to special conditions, which is an ‘abnormal’ country, because most of its citizens (the Jewish nation) are outside the borders of the country.”

Max Nordau spoke on the importance of achieving a Jewish majority at the Zionist Conference in London 1920, stating that “it is imperative that at least 500,000 Jews be present in Israel when England receives the Mandate. If not, Zionism is doomed to failure.” But despite the fact that at the time of the Mandate the number of Jews was only 83,000, this did not occur. In order to implement the Mandate, which states that Britain must “create in Palestine the political, administrative, and economic conditions that will ensure the establishment of the Jewish national home” the British refrained from establishing an indigenous government that would naturally be composed by an Arab majority, as happened in all the other Mandate states. In the Mandate, clauses seven, six, and four gave clear priority to immigration, naturalization, and Jewish settlement in order to generate the demographic and spatial revolution and to establish a democratic state with a Jewish majority.

In 1937, the Peel Committee laid down its proposal to divide the country between Jews and Arabs. Despite the small area allocated to the Jewish state (17 percent of the land), the Zionist Congress authorized David Ben-Gurion, then-chairman of the Jewish Agency, and Weizmann to negotiate with the British on the establishment of a Jewish state on part of the Land of Israel. It was a clear decision to favor a Jewish majority and a democratic state over having the entire and complete Land of Israel, for the Jews constituted only 30 percent of the country’s population. Ben-Gurion explains this to his son, Amos: “What we want is not that the land be whole and unified, but that the whole and unified land be Jewish. I have no satisfaction from a greater Land of Israel when it is Arab”. Mordechai Namir further explained the need for territorial compromise at the Mapai party conference in 1937: “Downsizing the land – this is the price we must pay for the fatal delay of the Hebrew people in building the Land of Israel and for the rapid growth of the Arab movement.”

The two men did not see the establishment of a small Jewish state as the end of the story, and developed the “theory of stages.” Ben-Gurion continues to write to his son: “A partial Jewish state is not an end, but a beginning … The establishment of a state – even a partial one – is the maximum strength reinforcement in this period, and it will serve as a powerful lever in our historical efforts to redeem the entire country.” Namir sums up and says: “Future generations – whether before or after the socialist revolution – will find a way to correct this distortion.”

The Holocaust, the great tragedy of the Jewish people, drove Ben-Gurion to demand that the British government partition the land, of which only a third of its inhabitants are Jewish. In February 1947, he wrote to the Foreign Minister in Greece: “The only possible immediate arrangement with a basis of finality is the establishment of two states, one Jewish and one Arab.”

The division resolution, in November 1947, placed the predicted demographic balance in the Jewish state at 55 percent. Ben-Gurion was aware of the difficulty that this would create, and in his own words speaking to the Mapai party in December 1947 states that even those who seek today the annexation of the West Bank need to understand: “In this composition there is not even absolute certainty that the government will be governed by a Jewish majority. There can be no stable Jewish state as long as there is a Jewish majority of only 60 percent.”

The War of Independence and the issue of the Palestinian refugees revolutionized the demographic balance and placed the proportion of Jews in the State of Israel (the Green Line) at more than 80 percent. Ben-Gurion again decided to end the war in favor of a democratic state of the Jewish people at the expense of a Greater Israel. He addressed the criticism against him for not completing the conquest of the land in the Knesset in April 1949: “The establishment of a Jewish state throughout the whole country without using the methods of action taken in Deir Yassin can only be a dictatorship of the minority … a Jewish state, in the present reality … is impossible, if it is to be democratic, for the number of Arabs in the western part of the Land of Israel is more than the number of Jews.”

The Six-Day War and the conquest of Gaza and the West Bank reawakened the territorial objective of the Greater Land of Israel, but more than a million Arabs who lived there blocked the government of Israel from any annexation, except for East Jerusalem. As then-prime minister Levi Eshkol put it: “How will we live with so many Arabs?” Later, the Likud governments made do with only annexing the Golan Heights, where only the Druze lived in four small villages.

Israel’s strategic choice to give up territory in return for preserving Jewish identity and democracy arose again in the 1990s when Yitzhak Rabin declared that he “views the separation issue as a central one” and chose the diplomatic path of the Oslo Accords. Later on, it was Ehud Barak who defined the separation as “a supreme national need for Israeli demography, identity, and democracy.” Even those who did not believe in permanent agreements, such as Ariel Sharon, spoke in a similar manner: “The demographic consideration played an important role in determining the course of the separation barrier because of the fear of annexing hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who will then join with the Israeli Arabs.” Prime Minister Ehud Olmert concluded: “Either two states or Israel is finished.”

The current demographic balance is a fact. It is sad to discover that after 100 years of conflict and decades of negotiations for an agreed political separation, discourse in Israel still exists only inward. There is no history, no international resolutions, no Palestinian people with national aspirations, and no agreements and declarations signed by the governments of Israel. More sad is the fact that many in the Israeli government are trying to hide the demographic truth because of aspirations for annexation and messianic visions.

This government, unlike all its predecessors, chose another strategic decision regarding the goals of Zionism: The Land of Israel in return for a democratic regime and a Jewish majority. This decision will remove the international commitment, for the reason that Israel will not meet the democratic conditions, and it will in turn push itself into the position of being leprous, a position in which South Africa found itself for many years in the past. Such an irresponsible decision will trigger a process that could lead to civil war, Israel’s internal collapse, the birth of an Arab state, and the disappearance of the Zionist vision

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