By Roger Higginson
On 4 December 2009, the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz reported that the United States had failed to persuade its partners in the so-called ‘Quartet’ to issue a declaration of support for Israel’s temporary pause in settlement construction. The four members of the ‘Quartet’ are the EU, the UN, Russia and the USA. So who was the party-pooper? Russia, apparently. However, more interesting than who said no was the reason why: Russia had objected to any declaration supporting the Jewish identity of the state of Israel.
In doing so, it has focussed on one of the key characteristics of the Israeli state which sets it apart from nearly every other country in the world, particularly in the Western world, of which it pretends so hard to be a part. Israel is an ethnocracy; a country which defines its citizens as belonging to a particular cultural or religious group – in its case, those who define themselves as Jewish.
Although it is physically located in the Middle East, Israel is unremittingly hostile to the Arabic culture and dominant religion in that region, Islam. Just about every aspect of its Government’s policy is driven by an uncompromising determination to maintain a Jewish majority in its population. Palestinian refugees are refused the right to return to their homes – enshrined in international law ‑ while Jews from the worldwide diaspora are given advice, help and financial support to set up home in Israel even when they have no family or historical links with the country.
The Jewish National Fund develops land in Israel for the exclusive use of Jews. Palestinian Arab (and non-Arab) citizens of Israel are not allowed to bring to the country an Arab spouse, who is normally resident in the Palestinian territory occupied post-1967 by Israel, in order to start a family. Why? Because a growing non-Jewish population in Israel would threaten the ‘demographic balance’.
The standard Zionist response to such injustice is that the Jewish people have a right to a state of their own. When it’s put in such terms, one might be inclined to be sympathetic, especially considering the horrors they suffered under the Nazis during World War II. But Israel is different: when other groups during the twentieth century have struggled for national self-determination, they have done so while seeking independence from foreign domination. Algeria is a typical example of this. The Algerians stayed where they were and – eventually ‑ the French colonial power withdrew.
Israel, by contrast, was not developed around the nucleus of an existing Jewish community living in, say, Europe or Africa: it was developed by a process of mass immigration into Palestine which developed momentum under the British Mandate following the end of World War I. Israel was founded by colonists attempting to develop a nation state in a territory already occupied by other people, while at the same time excluding the indigenous inhabitants of that territory from any meaningful degree of political power. It is this central fact of the origins of Israel which has caused one of the most enduring tragedies of the post-World War II era.
At the time of Israel’s creation in 1948 the Mandatory powers had proposed the partition of the territory of Palestine; one part was to be a Jewish state located on the coastal strip between Haifa in the North, and Gaza in the South, the other was for the Palestinian Arabs in an arc around the Jewish ‘state’. Interestingly, the Arab ‘state’ included Jaffa. The City of Jerusalem was to be a corpus separatum under the sovereignty of the UN.
Partition has of course been tried elsewhere, particularly by the British: in India, for example, around the same time – 1947/48. A comparison is instructive. In the case of India, partition led to the creation of the (Muslim) state of Pakistan, leaving a (relatively) small minority of Muslims in the Hindu state of India, a process involving almost unimaginable bloodshed and population displacement. This process was in some respects repeated, on a much smaller scale, during the partition of the island of Cyprus in 1974. Both the Greek and Turkish Cypriot populations were displaced and rearranged into two homogeneous ethnic groups.
Now, consider Israel with these examples in mind. The common thread of population displacement can be recognised immediately, with the expulsion of over 700,000 Palestinian refugees in 1948. And yet, here again, there is a difference. In Cyprus, India, and other countries where partition has been brought about – we can include Korea and Germany, albeit the latter is now one state – it was in all cases an existing territory which was divided into two parts.
Israel, though, powered by Zionist ambitions, has expanded its territory through military conquest ever since its creation; indeed, in 1948 it grabbed more territory than it was even allocated under the UN partition plan. Today its eastern border stands at the west bank of the River Jordan. Such land acquisition is, of course, illegal under international law.
That process has involved mass population displacement, with many additional thousands of Palestinian refugees being forced into Jordan, Syria and Lebanon as a result of the Six Day War in 1967. But it has emphatically not left the sort of culturally and religiously homogeneous communities which were created in Pakistan and the Greek and Turkish areas of Cyprus.
Consider the facts. The Israeli territory which is recognised by the international community –west of the so-called ‘Green Line’ ceasefire border of 1967 ‑ has a population of around 7 million. Of this some 22% are Palestinian Arabs (mostly Muslim, with some Christians), approximately 1.5 million people. In Jerusalem there are (very roughly) half a million Jews and quarter of a million Palestinians. In the occupied ‘West Bank’ there are 2 million Palestinians and around quarter of a million Jewish settlers. In the total area under Israeli Government and military control (excluding Gaza) there are therefore 6.25 million Jews and 3.75 million Palestinians in a territory about the size of Wales.
The bottom line is this: just less than 40% of the people under the control of the ‘Jewish state’ are not Jewish. Furthermore, that minority has higher birth rates than the Jewish majority. According to the Economist magazine, the West Bank and Gaza populations are the 8th fastest growing in the world, at a little under 3% per year.
Assuming that the Israelis do not conduct a mass campaign of ethnic cleansing amongst the Jewish state’s population, it is not unreasonable to anticipate that the Jewish and non-Jewish populations will reach parity around the middle of this century. For the supporters of Zionism this would be an unmitigated disaster. Ever since Theodore Herzl developed Zionist ideology at the end of the nineteenth century, the rationale for the creation of a Jewish state has been to maintain control via demographic superiority.
The irony of this scenario is that the Zionists could have achieved their ambition (whether or not it is reasonable) if they had been willing to keep Israel small and accept a state within the boundaries allocated for them by UN General Assembly Resolution 181(ii) of 1947. That they have not done so is the result of the insatiable settler-colonial appetite for land of those Zionists whose dreams have been the creation of ‘Eretz Israel’, a ‘greater Israel’ from the Mediterranean Sea to the River Jordan, swallowing up all of historic Palestine with the exception of the Gaza Strip.
And who are these settler-colonists? Radical, politically motivated and increasingly influential in Binjamin Netenyahu’s Likud Party, they are drawn from Jewish communities all over the world, particularly the USA and Russia. These are the people who have led the attacks on President Obama’s Cairo speech and ensured that in place of a withdrawal from any settlements in the West Bank the Israeli government has only announced a temporary pause in their expansion. Their intransigence, combined with the inherently unstable nature of political alliances generated by Israel’s proportional representation system, make it highly unlikely that their plans will be thwarted: there is no comparison to be made between this much larger group and the 6,000 settlers who were withdrawn unilaterally from Gaza by Ariel Sharon in 2005.
It is the settler movement which is making the realisation of the so-called ‘two-state solution’ a mirage. They have dug in all over the West Bank, and are now in the process of ‘Judaising’ East Jerusalem with the tacit support of the Israeli Government and the active protection of the Israeli military, many of whom are drawn from their ranks. All that is left now for a nascent Palestinian state is a series of unconnected Bantustans around the towns of Hebron, Jenin, Nablus, and Ramallah.
The only way forward now for these two peoples, so inextricably entwined, is to challenge the root cause of more than 60 years of war and suffering ‑ the ethnically exclusive ideology of Zionism. The real road to peace and justice lies in the creation of a single state in historical Palestine where religion is a matter for the individual, and everyone has the same rights under a single legal system. Ironically it is this, rather than the Zionist illusion of a ‘Jewish state’, which really will give the Jewish people the peace and security they crave.
*The Author has been active in supporting Palestinian rights since the Israeli war on Lebanon in 2006. He concentrates his efforts on lobbying Members of both the UK and European Parliaments, given they are the key decision takers in respect of how Governments in Europe develop their policy towards Israel.
He lives in London, and is a member of the Council for the Advancement of Arab Understanding (CAABU) and the UK branch of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD). The views expressed in this article are written from a personal perspective
 Population data is available from both the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and the FCO Country profiles of the UK Government.
 Pocket World in Figures: 2010 Edition
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.