Demographic symmetry and asymmetry

The very suggestion that there should be symmetry – a Palestinian minority in the Jewish State and a Jewish minority in the Palestinian state – almost brought down the present Israeli coalition.

Moshe_Arens_cropped-150x150By Moshe Arens

Symmetry − some love it, some hate it. Physicists researching elementary particles search for it and are jubilant when they find it. As for politicians − some like it and some detest it.

So what about a little demographic symmetry for Jews and Palestinians? The very suggestion that under some eventual permanent agreement between Israel and the Palestinians there should be symmetry − a Palestinian minority in the Jewish State and a Jewish minority in the Palestinian state − has aroused such anger in some quarters that it almost brought down the present Israeli coalition. As for the Palestinians in Gaza, Ariel Sharon created an asymmetric situation by forcibly uprooting the Jews of Gush Katif from their homes, and Hamas means to keep it that way. There is not likely to be any symmetry there.

For some on both sides of the separation fence which is defacing the Land of Israel, this demographic symmetry is simply unthinkable. There are some Jews who feel that no Jews should be left to live as a minority in a future Palestinian state, and there are some Palestinians who do not want any Jews cluttering up their territory if and when their state is established. It is interesting that tempers should run so high about an eventuality which at this time is strictly hypothetical, and for many reasons may never come to be. What’s behind all this?

For many Zionists this eventuality, even if at present hypothetical, poses a double dilemma. First, they are seeking to attain Israeli sovereignty over all of Judea and Samaria, and contemplate with horror the possibility of Palestinian sovereignty there in the future. For them the settlers in Judea and Samaria have not only exercised the inalienable rights that Jews have to settle and live in all of the Land of Israel, but are also meant to be the foundation on which eventual Israeli sovereignty will be anchored. Most of them realize that Israeli sovereignty over Judea and Samaria means giving the Palestinians living there full rights of Israeli citizenship, or in other words increasing substantially the number of Arabs living in Israel and participating in the political process here.

Those haunted by the demographic demon have recoiled from this possibility and would rather surrender all Jewish claims to Judea and Samaria. No more Arabs in Israel, is what they are saying in effect. Some of them would even like to use the opportunity of a settlement with Mahmoud Abbas to strip many of Israel’s Palestinian citizens of their citizenship and transfer them and their towns and villages, lock stock and barrel, to the future Palestinian state.

The second dilemma that concentrates the minds of Israelis contemplating the possibility of an agreement leading to Palestinian sovereignty over Judea and Samaria has to do with the future of the settlers now living there. Do they stay, or do they have to go? Can they, or should they, remain in place even after an eventual Palestinian take-over? Is their attachment to Israeli sovereignty stronger than their attachment to the land that they have settled?

By the looks of it there is little chance of an agreement being reached with Abbas. If it is true that the framework agreement calls on him to commit the Palestinians to an end of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it only emphasizes that he, speaking at best for less than half the Palestinians, is incapable of doing so, and no such agreement at this stage is in the realm of the possible. And yet the dilemmas posed by the hypothetical possibility of an agreement involving an Israeli withdrawal to the 1949 armistice lines forces all of us to wrestle with the two dilemmas: How real is the demographic demon, and how strong is our attachment to the land of our forefathers.

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