On the 65th anniversary of Israel’s independence, public celebration is focused on Israel’s very survival. President Shimon Peres delivered an address that hearkened back to the horrors of the Holocaust and the perilous vulnerability of the young state in 1948, saying that “over the course of fewer than seven decades, attempts were made to annihilate us, and seven times, we prevailed and won.”
However, Israeli’s future survival as a Jewish, democratic state is far from assured. If a two-state solution isn’t possible and Israel annexes the West Bank and Gaza, Israel is going to face a challenge that will reach the core of its identity. Faced with a majority Arab population, it will have to choose whether to remain democratic, or remain a Jewish state by denying Muslim Arabs equal rights.
The biggest issue that will determine the future of a two-state solution is that of Jewish settlements in the West Bank. These settlements, illegal under international law, appropriate land belonging to Palestinians and divide up the land that would make up a Palestinian state under a two-state solution.
According to B’tselem, a prominent Israeli organization that monitors human rights in the Occupied Territories, there were 124 Israeli settlements in the West Bank as of 2011, with over 500,000 settlers residing in them. As of January, Prime Minister Netanyahu has pledged to continue construction of a settlement, known as E1, that would further cut off East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank, despite widespread Palestinian protests.
In his speech in Jerusalem in March, President Obama argued that if Israelis continue to develop West Bank settlements, it will be “very difficult to square with a two-state solution.” He called on Israelis to have empathy for Palestinians. “It is not fair that a Palestinian child cannot grow up in a state of her own, and lives with the presence of a foreign army that controls the movements of her parents, every single day ... Neither occupation nor expulsion is the answer.”
After the crisis in Gaza in November 2012, many Israeli commentators wrote about the necessity of backing away from the country’s current hawkish approach in order to create permanent security. Israeli journalist Larry Derfner argued that the only way to create security would be to lift the blockade on Gaza and end the occupation completely. “When [Israel] rules other people on their land, those people will fight — and when this state ends its rule over those people completely, they will stop fighting,” he said.
Today, as Israel reflects on its past survival, and looks forward to the future, it will have to look critically at how its own policies are jeopardizing its future as a peaceful, Jewish, democratic state. As American-Israeli writer Emily Hauser said, “No human or human enterprise is ever so perfect that it may not be criticized ... Saying so out loud is not an act of disloyalty. It’s an act of love.”