by: Joshua Spurlock, The Mideast Update
The two-state solution sounds final—the long-sought answer to the Middle East’s most intractable riddle. But what if it’s not the only “solution” to the problem? What if it’s not even a plausible one? What alternative can there be to the “solution”? There is another possibility, hovering as both a promise and a threat: the one-state solution, where Israelis and Palestinians live together in the Jewish state of Israel. Those who support such a plan have a vision that might just offer an answer—a “solution”—that doesn’t come with as many critical questions.
What would such a “one-state solution” look like? Yishai Fleisher, international spokesperson for the Jewish community of Hebron in Judea and Samaria, wrote an op-ed in the New York Times in 2017 listing multiple options, many of which were backed by different political or intellectual figures in Israel. One model, Fleisher explained, would involve granting the Palestinians in Judea and Samaria residency rights. Jordan, which revoked these Palestinians’ citizenship in 1988, will then give them back their national citizenship.
An alternative would be to give the Palestinians Israeli residency—like Arabs in Jerusalem possess—while offering them a “pathway to citizenship for people who prove loyalty” to Israel, according to Fleisher. Still another option in the New York Times article is allowing the various Palestinian towns self-rule, while not holding national voting rights in Israel.
Fleisher pointed to Puerto Rico in the United States, which is a territory with limited national democratic rights. “Even in the greatest democracy on earth, there’s a different model that works for that different situation,” said Fleisher. “…What doesn’t work is to give away this land to a different entity and then soon enough have that entity become jihadist [jihad means “struggle,” war with unbelievers (in Islam)], which is what happened in Gaza, and Israelis are tired of it. And by the way, Palestinians are also tired of it…They’re tired of being ruled by a corrupt jihadist regime.”
Other options in the New York Times article included only annexing part of Judea and Samaria, while granting self-rule to the Palestinians in the rest of it, or alternatively, absorbing all of Judea and Samaria, while granting Israeli citizenship to all the Palestinians in Judea and Samaria.
Regardless of which model, Fleisher believes Israel must take a hard-line stance against jihadism, while also speaking “with clarity.” Fleisher said, “When you say that we’re going to have a two-state solution but then you don’t want to move the settlements [Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria] and all that, that is a formula for frustration because you’re not speaking with clarity. You have to set it out with more clarity, tell people what you are going to do and how you expect them to succeed in society.”
The detractors of the one-state solution are most afraid of demographics. They fear that if Israel controls the Palestinian areas, even excluding Gaza, the Palestinians and Israeli Arabs will eventually outnumber the Jews in their own country. They are concerned that if the country is fully democratic and gives those Arabs all a vote, they’ll vote out Israel’s Jewish nature. It’s a grave threat, but it appears to be based on dead-end statistics. Retired ambassador Yoram Ettinger, former Israeli Minister for Congressional Affairs at the embassy of the United States and CEO of Second Thought: A US–Israel Initiative, explained that he and a team conducted research beginning in 2004—including looking at information from a bevy of Palestinian institutions—with their most recent data access dating to the end of 2016.
The team and Ettinger, a certified public accountant, used what he terms “solid accounting, auditing procedures,” and found that the Palestinians were cooking the books on demographics. For one thing, he said the Palestinians have counted Israeli Arabs in Jerusalem—hundreds of thousands of them—when Israel’s demographers already counted them. Contrary to international practice, the Palestinians have also counted hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who have been away from Judea and Samaria and Gaza for over a year. Overall, the Palestinians’ creative numbers have inflated their population by about 1.2 million in Judea and Samaria alone, leaving the population as of 2016–2017 at roughly 1.85 million. When combined with the Arabs in Israel, the total result is a roughly 2-to-1 population advantage for Israeli Jews, Ettinger noted. Then there is what Ettinger calls a “demographic tailwind” in Israel’s favor: birth rate and immigration.
He said that Jews in Israel have not only caught up, but are slightly ahead of the Israeli Arabs in terms of fertility rate in the last two years, with 3.16 versus 3.11 births per woman. Based on historical analysis, he believes the Palestinian numbers are “very similar,” while noting multiple Middle Eastern Muslim nations are actually a lot less. For example, the World Bank said Iran is at just 1.66 births per woman and Saudi Arabia at just over 2.5 in 2016.
Then there’s Jewish immigration. According to Ettinger, roughly 30,000 Jews are returning to Israel every year, but he believes it could increase to 500,000 in the next five years “if we act wisely.” Ettinger said this increase would “provide a very robust tailwind to the already very healthy Jewish demography here. All of which suggests not to even contemplate any retreat in Judea and Samaria, but to contemplate what sort of annexation—immediate or gradual—of Judea and Samaria into Israel.”
Ettinger’s approach to this annexation would be gradual, starting with current Jewish communities, while offering full rights to all Palestinians and Arabs who were not directly or indirectly involved in terrorism or hate education, which he said is “sadly” only roughly between 200,000 and 300,000 people.
In the end, there is hope, and Fleisher has lived it. He recently joined an interfaith meal during the Muslim month of Ramadan (one of the Five Pillars of Islam when stringent disciplines are observed), where a former Arab terrorist spoke out. “Basically what he said was…‘I used to be a terrorist and I want to get Israel out, then I kind of came to the conclusion that they’re not leaving. But then a friend of mine really told me, that if I ever want something good to happen, I have to start seeing them as a diamond,’” recounted Fleisher.
“What he meant by that is that you have to see Israel as a good phenomenon, not just a powerful phenomenon. Israel is a blessing to this region. And it can be a blessing to the Arab world if the Arab world wouldn’t reject it, would accept it for what it is, which is a blessing.”
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