Who’s Afraid of the Bi-National State?

Israel is already a bi-national state – a state in which two nationalities reside, Jews and Arabs. The government’s best bet is to encourage aliyah from the Diaspora and to better integrate Arab citizens into Israeli society.

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By Moshe Arens

(A version of this column appeared in Haaretz on May 13, 2013)

Fear of the emergence of a bi-national state in the Land of Israel seems to be the driving force, on the right and on the left of the political spectrum, behind the many proposals for abandoning the hills of Samaria and Judea, the biblical Land of Israel, to powers as yet unknown and unpredictable. But the fact of the matter is that the State of Israel is already a bi-national state – a state in which two nationalities reside, Jews and Arabs. The advocates of the establishment of a Palestinian state in Judea and Samaria simply oppose the addition of any more Arabs to the existing Arab population of the State of Israel. Lurking behind their pious slogan “two states for two peoples” is their real, politically incorrect slogan: “Not one more Arab!”

Since Theodore Herzl, all Zionists have known that the Jewish state, when established, would include a significant number of Arab citizens. Ze’ev Jabotinsky’s requirement for the establishment of the Jewish state was a Jewish majority. But how big a majority? How big a minority of Arab citizens can be included within the borders of the state without significantly affecting the Jewish nature of the state? There is no quantitative answer to this question. Is the present 17% Arab minority among Israel’s citizens the limit? Or 20%, which would result if the entire Arab population of East Jerusalem were to opt for Israeli citizenship? Would 30% be stretching the limit? How do we expect the ratio to change as time goes by? What will be the rate of natural increase of Jews and Arabs in future years? How big an aliyah is to be expected in the coming years? How certain are we of the accuracy of the demographic projections?

Considering all this uncertainty, what risk are we willing to take? Leave forever large swaths of Judea and Samaria and uproot tens of thousands of Israelis from their homes? Or plan on incorporating into Israel parts of Judea and Samaria and accept the Arab population there as citizens of Israel? How much time do we have to accumulate more data in order to decrease the uncertainties clouding our vision of the future, before we have to make so fateful a decision? Is time working for us or against us?

In the meantime there are things to be done which will improve the situation regardless of the final outcome. We should advance toward the integration of Arab citizens into Israeli society, and promote aliyah to Israel from the countries of the Diaspora.

The degree of integration of Israel’s Arab minority into the fabric of Israeli society bears directly on the question of how large a minority population can live at peace in the State of Israel. A minority that is alienated from the state and hostile to it represents a problem. A minority that is well integrated and feels at home can be an asset.

Despite the opposition of radical elements like the Islamic Movement, in recent years there are visible signs of a gradual process of integration of many of Arab citizens into Israeli society. It is spontaneous, receiving very little help from the government. Much greater progress could be achieved if the government were to adopt it as a high priority goal. In time it may well turn out that the demographic issue is not all it is cracked up to be.

The other face of the demographic issue is aliyah. Most of the aliyah in the past originated from countries where Jewish communities were in distress. In future years, potential immigrants will be drawn to Israel based on what Israel has to offer, rather than by a desire to seek refuge. The great economic progress of the Israeli economy in the past decade has turned Israel into a land of opportunity with a standard of living as high, or even higher, than some of the countries with sizable Jewish populations. Can the present rate of aliyah of about 20,000 per year be doubled? Is it possible that half a million Jews might arrive in Israel during the next 10 years? It may be possible if the government adopts an active policy of promoting aliyah.

Maybe time is on our side after all.

 

 

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