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Israel Today and A Possible Israel Tomorrow

Israel's separation barrier as seen from Al Ram.. Credit: Jillian Kestler-D'Amours/IPS

PORTLAND, USA, Mar 2 2023 (IPS) - Israel of today as a Jewish and democratic state is a contradiction of terms and as such may possibly become transformed into a genuinely democratic Israel tomorrow with justice and equality for all.

In Israel today, citizens who are not Jewish are treated differently than those who are Jewish, who benefit from certain rights and privileges. In a national opinion poll, most Jewish Israelis, about 80 percent, say Jews should get preferential treatment in Israel. Also, nearly half of Jewish Israelis say that Arab Israelis should be expelled or transferred from Israel.

In Israel today, citizens who are not Jewish are treated differently than those who are Jewish, who benefit from certain rights and privileges. In a national opinion poll, most Jewish Israelis, about 80 percent, say Jews should get preferential treatment in Israel. Also, nearly half of Jewish Israelis say that Arab Israelis should be expelled or transferred from Israel

In addition, several years ago Israel passed the “nation-state law”, which among other things, states that the right to exercise national self-determination in Israel is unique to the Jewish people and also established Jewish settlement as a national value. While embraced by many Jewish Israelis, the nation-state law was considered apartheid by the country’s non-Jewish population, ostensibly making them second-class citizens.

In a democratic Israel, in contrast, all Israelis irrespective of their religious affiliation would have the same rights and privileges. In such a state, justice and equality would prevail across the entire country’s population, not just for a single dominant religious group.

A democratic Israel would be similar in many respects to Western liberal democracies such as the United States. In that democracy, all religious groups, including Jewish Americans, have the same rights, privileges and equality under the law.

Most Jewish Israelis, some 75 percent across the religious spectrum, continue to believe that Israel can be a Jewish state and a democracy. In contrast, non-Jewish Israelis, including the majorities of Muslims, Christians and Druze, generally do not believe Israel can be a Jewish state and a democracy at the same time; it’s simply viewed as inconsistent.

Further complicating political, legal and human rights matters for Israelis as well as Palestinians are the new government’s recent proposals for judicial reform, which would impact the independence of the Israeli Supreme Court.

Many Israelis have gone to the streets to protest the proposed reform. Objections to the reforms are being raised by former government officials, military officers, business investors and others. Foreign allies, especially officials, Jewish leaders and journalists in America, have also expressed concerns over the proposals. In addition, the majority of Israelis, about two-thirds, oppose the proposed judicial reform.

Turning to demographics, Israel’s population stood at 9.656 million at the end of 2022. The composition of the population was 74 percent Jewish, 21 percent Arab (largely Christian and Muslims) and 5 percent others (Figure 1).


Source: Israel, Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS).


In 1948 when Israel was established, the country’s proportion Jewish was 82 percent of its population of 806 thousand. By the 1960s the proportion Jewish reached a record high of nearly 90 percent. Since that high, the proportion Jewish in Israel has been steadily declining to its current level of 74 percent.

In addition to Israel’s changing demographics, the Jewish Israeli population has not been confined to its 1948 borders. Large numbers have expanded to settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

Israel’s Jewish settler population in the West Bank, for example, is now estimated at more than half a million. Many of the estimated 700 thousand Jewish Israelis now living in the West Bank and East Jerusalem are motivated by their religious mission to restore historic Israel to the Jewish people.

The Jewish settler population is continuing to increase rapidly in the West Bank, which is a top priority of ultranationalist parties who oppose Palestinian statehood.

The Israeli government has also pledged to legalize wildcat outposts and increase the approval and construction of settler homes in the West Bank.

In contrast, the United Nations Security Council and much of the international community of nations, including the United States, the European Union and the United Nations, continue to support the idea of an independent Palestinian state. However, the changing demographics in the West Bank have virtually eliminated the possibility of the two-state solution.

Without the two-state solution, Jewish Israelis face a major challenge affecting their majority status, namely the possibility of the one-state solution.

The one-state solution would involve the entire Israeli and Palestinian populations now living between the Mediterranean Sea and Jordan River. In such a population numbering approximately 15 million inhabitants, the Jewish population would become a ruling minority of approximately 47 percent, a fundamental change from the sizable Jewish majority of 74 percent in Israel today (Figure 2).


Source: Times of Israel.


Even today the Israeli government is confronting human rights issues with its expansion throughout the occupied Palestinian territories. International, Israeli and Palestinian human rights organizations as well as independent observers have found Israeli authorities practicing apartheid and persecution in the occupied Palestinian territories.

According to those human rights organizations, Israeli government policy is to maintain the domination by Jewish Israelis over Palestinians as well as the abuses and discriminatory policies against Palestinians living in the occupied territories.

Israel rejects those accusations, saying it is a democracy and committed to international law and open to scrutiny. The government cites security concerns and protecting the lives of Israelis for its imposition of travel and related restrictions on Palestinians, whose violence in the past included suicide bombings of Israeli cities and deadly attacks against Israelis.

Many have come to the conclusion that given the policies of the current Israeli government, a political path for Israel and an independent Palestinian state to coexist peacefully is simply wishful thinking. For some the two-state solution is effectively dead and it is simply waiting for its formal funeral.

In addition, the human cost of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been high and is rising. So far in 2023, the conflict has resulted in the deaths of an estimated 63 Palestinians and 13 Israelis.

From 2008 to 2020 the numbers of killed and injured from the conflict among Israelis and Palestinian documented by the UN were 251 and 5,590 deaths, respectively, and 5,600 and 115,000 injuries, respectively. In brief, over that time period approximately 95 percent of those killed and injured due to the conflict were Palestinians (Figure 3).


Source: UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).


It is evident that the Israeli government and many Israelis would like to continue the Jewish settler expansion in the West Bank. That expansion clearly has serious consequences for the resident Palestinian population and the Israelis as well as the prospects of an independent Palestinian state.

The demise of the two-state solution and the possible one-state solution also creates a major foreign and domestic dilemma for the United States, Israel’s major political, military and economic supporter and biggest ally.

Israel is the largest recipient of U.S. foreign assistance, estimated at more than 3 billion dollars annually and more than 150 billion dollars cumulatively. Also, America has vetoed scores of United Nations Security Council resolutions critical of Israel, including at least 53 since 1973.

Given America’s commitment to democratic values, freedom of religious beliefs and equality of citizenship, the White House, U.S. Senators, Congressional Representatives as well as the nation’s citizens will be faced with how to respond to the absence of a possible Palestinian state and Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians.

In the absence of the two-state solution, it will become increasingly difficult for the United States to continue its unwavering commitment and unequivocal support in light of Israeli policies and treatment of the Palestinians. Perhaps, consistent with its values and laws, America will decide to support the one-state solution with equality of all inhabitants, regardless of religious identities.

More importantly, in the absence of a truly independent Palestinian state, Israel may slowly come to embrace the one-state solution. Eventually then, especially given the unavoidable demographic realities strikingly visible on the ground, Israel may possibly come to realize that it’s time to transform the Israel of today into a truly democratic Israel of tomorrow with justice and equality for all.


Joseph Chamie is a consulting demographer, a former director of the United Nations Population Division and author of numerous publications on population issues, including his recent book, “Population Levels, Trends, and Differentials”.


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