By David K. Shipler
On some unknown day in some recent year, according to the most reliable estimates, the demographic scales were tipped by the death of an Israeli Jew or the birth of an Arab baby. The Jews lost their majority in the ancient, weary land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea as the number of Arabs reached parity with the Jewish population, at 6.1 or 6.2 million each, depending on who’s counting. Every Israeli knew that the day was coming, but few noticed its stealthy arrival under the camouflage of their twilight war with the Palestinian Arabs, which has blurred visions of the future.
Now what is to be done? That is the profound question for Israel, one that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seems ill-equipped to address, despite his many years in office. It is the question that will lurk behind his speech to Congress on Iran’s nuclear ambitions, because the answer—whatever it may be—is equally critical to Israel’s survival as a democratic sanctuary.
Will Israeli Jews, as a minority going forward, continue to dominate the Arab majority? Will the current hybrid of military occupation and hostile disengagement continue endlessly, or will an exit be found? Will that exit create two states side by side, and will they exist in accommodation or ongoing violence? Or will the “solution” be one state? And if so, what would that state look like with an Arab majority and a Jewish minority? Would all Arabs, including those from the West Bank and Gaza, enjoy equal citizenship in a full democracy, as Arab citizens of Israel technically do now? If so, they will outvote the Jews, and the character of Israel as a Jewish state will be lost. If not—if Arabs are consigned to a lesser status of limited rights—will the uneven relationship justify the hateful a-word, “apartheid,” already thrown about loosely by anti-Israel zealots?