Sunday, February 22, 2009

Are Two States Better Than One?

I want to attempt to clarify what I wrote here, about the Israeli parties' positions on the issue of whether the Palestinians should have an independent states in territories that Israel occupied after the Six Day War of 1967.

The rising star of Israeli politics, the Yisrael Beiteinu Party, led by Avigdor Lieberman, has a distinctive stance on that issue.

Some parties, including Kadima, support, in principle, the so-called "land for peace" concept, of tying Palestinian autonomy in the West Bank and Gaza Strip to a peace agreement by which the Palestinians would commit to ending terrorist attacks on Israel.

Others, such as Likud, the party that has been tentatively chosen to head the next coalition government, are leery of that formula. I get the impression that opposition to "land for peace" is a combination of pragmatic concern that the Palestinians would not live up to their commitments, and ideological opposition to giving up what some Israelis deem to be the biblical land of Israel that was a divine gift to them. Certain small parties that are possible coalition partners with Likud, and that are centered around Orthodox Jewish religious concepts, take that position.

Lieberman and his party want to combine the concept of Palestinian independence with steps designed to minimize Arab influence in the State of Israel. Two prominent planks in their platform are:

First, setting the borders between Israel and an independent Palestine so as to maximize the proportion of Jewish residents on the Israeli side, and Arabs on the Palestinian side. The party summarizes this as: "Israel is our home; Palestine is theirs." ("Israel is our home" is the literal translation of the party's name.)

Second, a pledge of allegiance to the State of Israel, and national service (military or otherwise) as prerequisites for voting rights and other citizenship rights in the state. Currently, there are no such requirements on Arab citizens of Israel.

Remember the old beer commercial, "Yes you can have it all"? Well, Israel can't have it all.

Demographics dictate that the State of Israel cannot have all of the following: 1) a Jewish state, 2) a fully democratic state, and 3) a state that incorporates all of the land that can be considered the biblical land of Israel. Depending on exactly how one draws up the boundaries, such a state would, either now or in the future, have an Arab majority. The rate of natural increase in the Arab population is greater than in the Jewish population, so the demographics will increasingly be an issue as time goes on.

One note on spelling: You'll often seen Middle Eastern names spelled inconsistently in English-language news media. That is because languages in that region, such as Hebrew and Arabic, use a different alphabet than that used in English. The names therefore need to be transliterated. That entails finding a spelling that approximates that sound of the name in its original language. The political party I'm describing in this post is variously transliterated as "Yisrael Beiteinu", "Yisrael Beitenu", or "Yisrael Beytenu".

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