After the Daily Beast released excerpts of his warning world leaders that Israel would devolve into an “apartheid” state if it failed to agree to a peace deal, Secretary of State John Kerry walked back his comments. “If I could rewind the tape,” he explained, “I would have chosen a different word to describe my firm belief that the only way in the long term to have a Jewish state and two nations and two peoples living side by side in peace and security is through a two-state solution.”
This shouldn’t make anyone feel better. It’s not just the incendiary use of “apartheid” that’s the problem but the well-worn canard about Israel that Kerry rests his position on. And his position shouldn’t really surprise anyone who’s been paying attention. President Barack Obama offered basically the same argument only a couple of months ago when he warned that time was running out for “Israel as a Jewish-majority democracy.”
Kerry has essentially taken the Jimmy Carter position. The theory goes like this: Arab birthrates in Israel and the Palestinian territories will continue to be higher than those of the Jews. At some point, Arabs will become the majority in all the areas that Israel governs and occupies, and then Jews will be impelled to act like a bunch of Afrikaner brownshirts to survive.
There are two key problems with this theory: 1) The demography apocalypse isn’t happening in Israel. 2) And even if it were, it would have absolutely nothing to do with today’s peace negotiations or the status of the territories administered by Israel.
Last year, Uri Sadot did a great job debunking the idea that demographics will one day make Jews a minority in Israel. The central point:
“The numbers just don’t add up. Demography relies on more than just birth rates, and similar predictions have a long history of falling flat. Israeli Jews have a healthy and largely stable demographic majority in Israel and the West Bank, and developments in the coming years may even enhance this trend. The demographic time bomb, in other words, is a dud.”
Israel’s population stands at about 8 million people, with 6 million Jews and nearly 400,000 non-Jews related to Jewish immigrants. There are about 1.7 million Israeli Arabs, which includes Christians and Druses. For decades, Jews have been hearing how they will be outnumbered, yet the trends don’t change much.
This is why Kerry is forced to create the fictional “unitary” state. There is no unitary state. No Israeli government — not right, left or center — has ever seriously considered annexing the West Bank or the Gaza Strip. Israel can offer limited autonomy to Palestinians — as it does in the Gaza Strip – and the “unitary” demographics change nothing. The Hamas voting bloc has no impact on Israel’s domestic policy today, so why would it matter tomorrow or a decade from now? This situation is hardly ideal, and it would be in the best interest of all to have a workable and lasting peace in place, but no agreement will be palatable to Israelis if it includes Fatah non-starters such as “right to return” or a Hamas-run government eager to make deals with belligerent nations. Israel is prosperous and free enough to carry the cost of judiciousness.
Israel isn’t a perfect nation, of course. It’s just more perfect than many. The Israeli Arab minority not only fully participates in the nation’s democratic process but also is protected by the same laws that govern Jews. As Kerry knows, only one side openly demands ethnic dissection. Saying the West Bank and Gaza Strip should be completely free of Jews is, in fact, the ugly precondition to any peace agreement.
But Kerry suggests that a change of Israeli or Palestinian leadership might offer better conditions for an agreement on the future Palestinian state. This is an interesting assertion, considering Fatah has been the only entity to negotiate for Palestinians while Israel has engaged in peace talks with the left-of-center Labor Party and right-of-center Likud Party and the center Kadima Party — though it has made absolutely no difference in the outcome.
What did Fatah do this time? Put it this way: Kerry’s tireless work in the Middle East hasn’t been a complete waste. While he’s been pressuring Israel, the erstwhile terrorist group Palestine Liberation Organization and contemporary terrorist group Hamas have set aside their long-standing differences and will form a government in the next few weeks so that a corrupt, radicalized, poverty-ridden society can unite to blame their misfortunes on the Jews. So there’s always that.
David Harsanyi is a senior editor at The Federalist and the author of “The People Have Spoken (and They Are Wrong): The Case Against Democracy.”