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Israel’s Democracy Dilemma

Despite its continued backing of Israel, the Bush administration’s patience is apparently not endless. Should Ariel Sharon’s government continue to construct a security fence effectively annexing Palestinian areas to Israel, Washington has threatened to withhold some of the $9 billion in planned loan guarantees.
Israelis are not pleased. “It’s none of their business,” complained Zitrin Eliezer, an Israeli settler in the West Bank. “Let them give California and Texas back to the Mexicans and then they can come and tell us what to do.”
In fact, Eliezer is correct: Israel’s policies aren’t America’s business. At least they wouldn’t be if Washington were not backing Israel against all comers, providing billions in aid annually, arming its distant ally, and offering diplomatic cover for Israel. The price of dependence on America is meddling by Washington.
The U.S. has no choice but to demand, pressure, and whine. As Sept. 11 dramatically demonstrated, America pays a price for being identified with Israel’s policies in the Gaza Strip and West Bank. Obviously, terrorism against the U.S. reflects complex causes and circumstances, and the slaughter of innocents, whether Americans or Israelis, can never be justified.
But anger over U.S. support for Israel permeates Arab and Muslim nations. Even pro-American liberals in the most pro-American Mideast Muslim state, Kuwait, uniformly criticize Washington when they see Israeli tanks confront Palestinian children. Dr. Steve Gilliland of Brigham Young University spent eight months in Jerusalem; he complains of “the assault on human rights, the incessant harassment, and the humiliation and violence the Palestinians suffer at the hands of the Israeli government.”
Alas, the situation is only likely to get worse. Every killing encourages more killing: the young woman who set off the deadly bomb in Haifa apparently acted in retaliation for the killing of her brother and cousin in Jenin in the West Bank four months before. Her murder of 19 virtually forced an Israeli response. And on it goes, a tragedy without end.
Indeed, Israeli officials, including Vice Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, publicly talked of assassinating (or expelling or jailing) Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. No great loss: the man is a blood-stained thug. But for Israel to murder an elected quasi-head of state would make it, and its chief ally, America, appear equally roguish.
Even worse is talk of “solving” the conflict through ethnic cleansing. An extremist segment of Israeli opinion has long pushed such an option; expulsion is the implicit if not explicit goal of most settlers. Understandable frustration over murderous suicide bombings has increased popular support for this brutal option.
American columnist Ben Shapiro writes, “If you believe that the Jewish state has a right to exist, then you must allow Israel to transfer the Palestinians and the Israeli-Arabs from Judea, Samaria, Gaza and Israel proper. It’s an ugly solution, but it is the only solution.”
The euphemisms roll off of his tongue. “It’s not genocide; it’s transfer.” Czechoslovakia and Poland did it to Germans after World War II; Winston Churchill thought it was a good idea. Indeed, “expelling a hostile population is a commonly used and generally effective way of preventing violent entanglements.” Expelling nearly five million people from their homes is permissible, says Shapiro, because “Jews are not Nazis.”
But he is advocating forced ethnic cleansing, not voluntary transfer. And that means inflicting mass hardship and possibly death on the population being “transferred.” After all, the Palestinians aren’t likely to obey an Israeli decree to abandon all. They will have to be forced to do so. That means destroying their homes. Wiping out their villages. Killing at least some of them. No wonder Shapiro concludes, “It’s time to stop being squeamish.”
Look at the World War II experience, which Shapiro endorses. An estimated 9 to 15 million Germans were forced from ancestral lands in Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, Romania, and Yugoslavia. R.J. Rummel, author of Death By Government, estimates the casualty toll at between 500,000 and 3.7 million, most likely about 1.9 million, similar to the numbers offered by other analysts. Some ethnic Germans were killed before expulsion; many died while fleeing; some died later as a result of their treatment. So horrific was the “transfer” process that Rummel places Poland “among the megamurderers” of history.
In an earlier column Shapiro wrote, “I am getting really sick of people who whine about ‘civilian casualties.’” For instance, the Palestinian town of Jenin, he argued, should have been leveled by air attack rather than searched by ground forces: “Civilian casualties? So be it. That might have struck a note of fear into the Palestinians.”
About one thing he is correct: ethnic cleansing is distressingly common. Large numbers of Greeks, Hungarians, and Turks were expelled in the aftermath of World War I. Nazi Germany forced out 100,000 French and one million Poles from territory that it conquered early in World War II. Various nations “transferred” Hungarians, Lithuanians, and Russians. Some 700,000 Palestinians are refugees from the Arab-Israeli conflict of 1948. (Today survivors and descendents number about 4.5 million.) Over the last decade, Albanians, Croats, and Serbs all engaged in the practice during the Yugoslavian civil war.
But as common as the practice might be, it now is uniformly condemned—except by those who think as Shapiro does.
In principle, separation seems the best answer. Whatever the theoretical long-term value of diverse peoples living together in harmony, it’s not going to happen soon in the Mideast. Daily contact between Israelis and Palestinians seems only to provide further opportunities for the former to oppress the latter and the latter to murder the former. Better to stop the killing than foolishly to hold onto some hopeless multicultural ideal.
For this reason, a security fence that physically separates Jew from Arab makes sense. Unfortunately, the one being constructed by Israel mixes Jew and Arab and separates Arab from Arab. For Israel is attempting to protect a number of disparate settlements erected in the midst of Palestinian communities. The more settlers Israel includes, the more Arabs it gains and the less continuity there is among Palestinian lands. Indeed, by one estimate, so far the fence is set to include 13 villages containing 12,000 Palestinians, 75 acres of greenhouses, 23 miles of irrigation pipes, and 100,000 olive and citrus trees. Those numbers could grow substantially, depending upon the path the fence ultimately takes.
Separation will work only if it really is separation. The more Palestinians end up on the Israeli side, the more seeds for continuing and future conflict will be sown. As long as Palestinian territory is fragmented, Arabs will live under a system of de facto apartheid, and the anger and hatred that helps give rise to suicide bombing will continue to fester. Peace will remain as distant as ever.
The basic question posed by separation on Israel’s terms is: why should the Arabs go? Israel may have taken the land through conquest, but after 36 years of occupation the land remains almost exclusively Arab. The Jewish presence is largely the result of a conscious policy of colonization. Were the land empty to start, there would be little cause to complain. But it was not. When Israel triumphed in the 1967 Six Day War, Gaza was part of Egypt, and the West Bank was part of Jordan. There were essentially no Jews.
In 1978, when the Camp David Accords were midwived with the help of President Jimmy Carter, there were only about 4,000 Jewish settlers in the occupied lands—and everyone agreed that Israeli settlers had to leave the Sinai, which was returned to Egypt, to reach an agreement.
But during the 1980s the number of settlers increased six-fold. Since then the total has trebled again. With subsidies approaching $1 billion a year, the number of settlers has reached about 230,000. (Most are in the West Bank, but, inexplicably, 6,500 live in Gaza.) The settlements require a pervasive Israeli military occupation, under which Palestinians essentially live in Bantustan “homelands.” Writes Avraham Burg, former speaker of Israel’s Knesset:

It is very comfortable to be a Zionist in West Bank settlements such as Beit El and Ofra. The biblical landscape is charming. You can gaze through the geraniums and bougainvilleas and not see the occupation. Traveling on the fast highway that skirts barely a half-mile west of the Palestinian roadblocks, it’s hard to comprehend the humiliating experience of the Arab who must creep for hours along the pocked, blockaded roads assigned to him. One road for the occupier, one road for the occupied.

This cannot work. Even if the Arabs lower their heads and swallow their shame and anger for ever, it won’t work. A structure built on human callousness will inevitably collapse on itself.
At stake is the future of Israeli democracy. Burg argues, “The prime minister should present the choices forthrightly: Jewish racism or democracy.” A single state requires nearly universal willingness to live and work together. Moreover, demographics create an ever-advancing crisis. There are roughly 5.3 million Jews in Israel and a couple hundred thousand in the occupied territories. There are 1.3 million Arabs in Israel and about 3.4 million in Gaza and the West Bank.
Given respective birthrates, there will soon be more Arabs than Jews in the combined territory between the Mediterranean Sea and Jordan River. Arabs are likely to account for 60 percent of that population and nearly one-third of Israel’s citizens by 2020. Notes Uri Dromi of the Israel Democracy Institute, “Either we give the Palestinians equal rights, in which case Israel ceases to be Jewish, or we don’t, in which case Israel ceases to be democratic. The only way for Israel to remain both Jewish and democratic is for it to pull out of the territories.” Israeli academic Shlomo Avineri makes the same point. Separation is “a counsel of despair,” but “the current situation is awful. We remain in a neocolonial relationship with the Palestinians, which forces us to do things that are incompatible with being a democracy.”
The conflict between Israelis and Palestinians is intractable. The murderous bombing in Haifa and the retaliation that followed seem almost routine. But there is hope because, as Shapiro notes, “Jews are not Nazis.” A number of Israeli soldiers now refuse to serve in the West Bank; 27 pilots recently declared their refusal to bomb targets in the West Bank. In the end, Israel is incapable of conducting Shapiro’s plan of ethnic cleansing.
The most obvious solution is not ethnic cleansing. Not expulsion. Not assassination. But separation—and with it the dismantling of Israeli settlements that dot Gaza and the West Bank. And as long as Washington backs Israel financially and politically, the future of the settlements is America’s business.
Doug Bandow is a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute and a former Special Assistant to President Ronald Reagan.

November 3, 2003 issue
Copyright © 2003 The American Conservative

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