December 15, 2003


Israel's 'cloud of demographics': A dovish politician is forcing even hawkish Israelis to consider ceding land to the growing population of Palestinians. (Cameron W. Barr, 12/15/03, The Christian Science Monitor)

Even now, nearly four months after it was first published, an article by a dovish Israeli politician continues to irritate and appall his ideological opponents. But its main point - the need for Israel to cede land - is now being voiced by more hawkish Israelis as well.

Avraham Burg, a former Speaker of the Israeli parliament and a leading defender of the idea that Israel and a Palestinian state can coexist in peace, wrote in an Israeli newspaper in August that the "Jewish people did not survive for two millennia in order to pioneer new weaponry, computer-security programs, or antimissile missiles. We were supposed to be a light unto the nations. In this we have failed." [...]

The impetus for this discussion - and the core of Burg's article - is the growing realization that Israel is losing the demographic war with the Palestinians, even as it emerges more or less triumphant from the battles of recent years.

Israelis have long ruminated over the paradox of their situation: If they maintain control over the Palestinian territories in the service of the idea that Jews should govern the entire "land of Israel," they will need to figure what to do with the Palestinians. Israeli hard-liners argue for expulsion or "transfer," but that step would be internationally unpopular. Another option is to deprive the Palestinians of political rights, but this "apartheid" approach would also draw international opprobrium. A third option is to make the Palestinians citizens - something Israel has already done with Palestinians who did not flee their lands in the 1948 Arab-Israeli war - a step in keeping with the desire of the majority of Israelis to maintain a full-fledged democracy.

The problem is that there so many Palestinians. As it is, Burg argued in an interview this month, "Between the Jordan [River] and the Mediterranean [Sea], somewhere between next year and two years' time, there will be born the first Palestinian ... [of] the Palestinian majority."

"What do you give up - assuming you can't have them all - land, system, or majority?" asks Burg, a balding, blue-eyed, and fit man who speaks English with an accent that has often been likened to Arnold Schwarzenegger's. Burg's answer: "I'll never give up democracy, I'll never give up the Jewish majority. With difficulties and pain, I compromise the land."

Even more hawkish Israelis, such as [Ehud] Olmert, are now willing to voice this view in public.

While folk continue to dream of demographics as naturally self-regulating, they continue to shape the destiny of peoples.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 15, 2003 12:22 AM
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