Israel’s Right-Wing One-State Solution Won’t Work — But Neither Will the Left Wing Two-State Solution
Israelis who believe in a two-state solution argue that Israel cannot annex the West Bank because it will result in Palestinians forming a significant minority — if not a majority — of the population. If those Palestinians are given the right to vote, Israel will no longer be a Jewish state, and if they are denied that right, Israel will cease to be a democracy. Therefore, a peace agreement must be negotiated that will give the Palestinians a state.
Israeli one-staters believe that the Jewish population will grow through natural increase and immigration to the point where a “Greater Israel” can remain Jewish and democratic. The demography, however, makes both positions untenable.
Consider the idea of annexation. Setting aside the fact that Palestinians object to Israeli rule and that the Palestinians would become an internal security threat, the demographic dilemma is unavoidable. Though some non-demographers present data they claim shows there is no threat to the Jewish majority, most demographers see things differently.
The total population of Israel as of January 1, 2019 was 8,972,000. The good news for Israel is that this represents a 10-fold increase compared to 1948. The bad news is that the percentage of Israel’s population that is Jewish has been declining. It went from a high of nearly 90 percent in the 1950s and early 1960s to just 74 percent today.
The one-staters have argued that Israel’s demographic challenge would be offset by mass immigration, but even after the influx of more than one million Jews from the former Soviet Union, the Jewish proportion of the population continued to fall.
Some pin their hopes on a new influx from Europe as a consequence of the surge in antisemitism; however, even if every Jew emigrated from the EU, the population would only grow by half a million. And they’re not leaving in large numbers. The total number of immigrants to Israel was approximately 30,000 in 2018, and only a few thousand came from Europe. The largest number, 2,660, came from France, a decline of 25 percent from the year before, despite a 74 percent increase in French antisemitic incidents in 2018. Furthermore, many of the Europeans who immigrated in the past returned to their original homes.
The people who place their faith in immigration to maintain a Jewish majority have another problem; last year, 60 percent of all olim were not Halachically Jewish.
Now consider the addition of the Palestinian population from the West Bank, which, according to the CIA’s World Factbook, is approximately 2.8 million. Nearly 1.9 million Arabs are Israeli citizens. Annexation would bring the Arab population of Israel to 4.7 million, or approximately 40 percent. Given the growth of the Palestinian population, even at the lower birthrate of today, some demographers expect that figure to exceed 50 percent.
One-staters often argue the Palestinian statistics are inflated, but even if they were off by one million, the Palestinian proportion of the population would be more than 30 percent. Also consider that the third largest party in the last Knesset was the Arab List. It still did not have the numbers to affect policy, but will that change if the Arab population grows from 20 percent to 30 percent or more? Moreover, the majority of the current Arab population has accepted the Jewish character of the state, but the Palestinians in the West Bank do not. They are not likely to show the same loyalty that Arab citizens have shown for the last 70 years.
Even Israel’s right-wing prime ministers have recognized the demographic dilemma. Begin, Shamir, or Sharon could have announced the immediate annexation of the West Bank, but none did. Netanyahu has also resisted calls from his coalition partners to move in this direction. Furthermore, Sharon and Netanyahu actually agreed to withdrawals from parts of the West Bank.
The two-staters, as well as the Palestinians, complain of creeping annexation. Even though the Palestinian Authority controls roughly 40 percent of the West Bank, both the growth of the number of settlers and their location makes the creation of a contiguous Palestinian state increasingly unlikely, if not already impossible. This, of course, is the intent of the one-staters who promote the settlements.
Had the Palestinians agreed to peace at any time in the last 51 years, the spread of settlements would have stopped. Begin offered them autonomy when the number of settlers was less than 12,000. If the Palestinians had fulfilled their Oslo obligations, the number would have been frozen at roughly 170,000. Arafat rejected Barak’s 2000 offer of 97 percent of the West Bank at a time when there were 200,000 settlers. If they had accepted a similar deal Olmert proposed in 2006, the figure would be 260,000. Thanks to their irredentism, the current Jewish population of the West Bank is nearly 450,000. The number will only grow with each passing year that the Palestinians refuse to negotiate. Twenty years from now, the population is expected to grow to nearly one million.
Most peace plans assume that Israel would annex sufficient territory to incorporate most of the Jews currently living in the West Bank. At Camp David, Israel insisted that 80 percent of the Jewish residents of Judea and Samaria would be in settlement blocs under Israeli sovereignty. In 2000, most Jews lived in the five “consensus” blocs, but even then, the number outside of those blocs would have been difficult if not impossible to relocate.
Based on current data, the situation has gotten much more complicated. Today, approximately 250,000 Jews live in the blocs, which is roughly 58 percent of the estimated 450,000 Jews living in Judea and Samaria. The two-staters’ expectation has been that roughly one-third of the Jews living in other settlements will move into these blocs, which would raise the percentage close to 70 percent. The problem is that would still require Israel to evacuate more than 135,000 people.
The likelihood of such a step, already low, became infinitesimal following the 2005 evacuation of Gaza. Israel’s disengagement required the removal of only about 9,000 people and that was a gut-wrenching experience for the nation. It is unimaginable that thousands of Israeli soldiers would be deployed to remove the nearly 200,000 Jews outside the blocs (assuming none voluntarily moved inside them).
Even if most Jews left without a fight, as they did from Gaza, they would expect to be compensated more than the Gaza settlers. The cost would be astronomical. Israel could not afford to do it without US or international help, and because of the disdain for settlements, such assistance is unlikely.
Perhaps most importantly, Israelis saw that instead of trading land for peace, the disengagement brought them thousands of rockets. This shifted Israeli opinion to the right and all but destroyed the peace camp. Today, no Israeli government would make territorial concessions without ironclad security guarantees that the West Bank will not become another Hamastan, and the base for terrorist attacks that could threaten its capital, its airport, its industrial heartland, and most of its population. It is hard to imagine how the Palestinians could convince Israelis to take such risks for peace given their words and deeds (e.g., the pay-to-slay policy of providing money to terrorists and their families).
Unless an Israeli leader comes to power who is willing to freeze settlements over the long term, and it is difficult to see anyone doing so without dramatic changes on the Palestinian side, the settlement population will continue to grow. Given the distribution of the 131 settlements now in the West Bank, it would take a feat of geographic legerdemain to carve out a Palestinian state beyond the current borders of the Palestinian Authority (Area A). If that were satisfactory to the Palestinians, then a two-state solution might still be possible. It is clearly not acceptable, however, to any foreseeable Palestinian leader.
Oh, and there is also the small matter of the Gaza Strip. The Strip is seen as an albatross not only by Israel, but by Egypt, which doesn’t want the headache of absorbing 1.8 million Palestinians.
The one-staters don’t have much to say about Gaza. Israelis have no interest in returning, as evidenced by their willingness to tolerate a certain level of terror emanating from the area. They appear content with the status quo so long as violence does not escalate.
The two-staters foresee a land bridge connecting Gaza and the West Bank; however, that assumes the Palestinians can agree among themselves on a future government. If a Palestinian leader took power in the West Bank who would be amenable to peace with Israel, they still could not make an agreement without Gaza. But so long as Hamas remains in power, and committed to Israel’s destruction, no deal is possible. Fatah would have to seize control of Gaza to have the authority to negotiate on behalf of all Palestinians, and thereby risk their own civil war. It is also possible that Hamas will succeed in its effort to subvert their rivals and takeover the West Bank.
The future is uncertain, but today no “solution” is on the horizon. Hence, Palestinians and Israelis are left with a no-state non-solution.
Mitchell Bard is the Executive Director of AICE and Jewish Virtual Library.