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Why the most devastating strategy against injustice may be for Palestinians to demand equality and citizenship, not statehood.
The Israeli Dilemma
What does Israel want? It's a question that is not asked often enough, yet it lies at the center of the current conflict in Gaza.
As the only country in the world with a Jewish-majority population, Israel defines itself as a Jewish nation-state. And as "the only true democracy in the Middle East," it strives to abide by a code of law that grants equal rights and privileges to all of its citizens, regardless of religion, race, or gender.
Now what would happen if suddenly the demographics in Israel began to change? What if enough of the world-wide population of Jews did not take their "right of return" in order to live in Israel, or not enough Jewish babies were born to maintain a majority-Jewish population? In a true democracy with equal representation for all its citizens, it's not a stretch to understand that would mean less representation and perhaps less power for the Jews. What would Israel really look like if there were a majority of Christians and Muslims and other non-Jewish people running the government? Would it remain a Jewish state, or would it remain a democracy?
Herein lies the problem. Among the estimated 8 million people who currently live in Israel, around 6 million are Jews. However, upwards of 4 million Palestinians live in the occupied territories of the West Bank and Gaza. If you add that up, that's only 6 million Jews among a population of over 12 million.
What does that mean? Even if Palestinians were to forsake the right of return for all displaced Palestinian refugees around the world, Israel still has a demographic problem of maintaining its majority-Jewish population.
Paths for Israel
In the United States, there's a solution. It's called gerrymandering, i.e. manipulating the political borders in such a way that certain parties maintain political power in certain regions. For a good explanation, see the following video "Gerrymandering Explained":
There's also another, darker path. Israel can resort to ethnic cleansing, gentrification, and/or genocide, i.e. make life so unbearable for the people living in Palestine that they just leave, or else imprison or kill them, with the end goal of taking their land freely.
Finally, Israel might resort to apartheid. In the case of a Jewish minority in Israel, they can simply allow Jews special rights, privileges, and opportunities in order that they may maintain political power to preserve Israel's Jewish identity.
A version of gerrymandering seems to be what happened in 2005, when Israel unilaterally withdrew its military occupation of the Gaza Strip and all settlements, while maintaining control of the airspace, borders, and seas. This move allowed Israel to rid itself the responsibility of counting this dense Palestinian population among its citizens and having to provide for them, while still maintaining virtually full control of the area.
In the West Bank however, it seems as though Israel has chosen the path of ethnic cleansing. With over 350,000 Israelis living in the 121 Jewish-only settlements in the West Bank, an area that is supposed to be under the full control of the Palestinian Authority, there doesn't appear to be any other way to describe it.
Except, of course, apartheid.
The facts of the matter are pretty clear: while Jews have the right of return to Israel, Palestinian refugees are denied this possibility. While Israel has the right to self defense and maintains one of the best-funded armies in the world (thanks to the US), Palestinians are denied the right to manufacture or import weapons for their own defense, being viewed as aggressors and terrorists for launching rockets into Israel without the requisite technology to help aim them towards strictly military targets. While Israel is seen to have a legitimate claim to defensible borders, Palestinians are not even granted autonomy over a single, contiguous piece of land and are instead responsible for two areas that are entirely separate with limited or no freedom of movement between them or anywhere else. While Israel is able to build a wall and manage complete control over checkpoints and border crossings with ease of travel for Israeli citizens, Palestinians are subjected to warrantless searches and seizures and hindrances to their freedom of movement within their own Palestinian lands on a daily basis. And by no means is this list exhaustive.
Paths for Palestine
So how can Palestinians gain the sort of freedom and dignity that they deserve in the face of such inequality?
The first option is the two-state solution, which calls for establishing an independent country called Palestine. The Palestinians would then have a homeland where they could exercise self determination and provide equal or better accommodations for Palestinians than Israel might. Whether this option is possible anymore, with so many Jewish settlers on land that would belong to Palestine in any reasonable negotiation, is debatable.
A second option is for Palestine to offer surrender. Here's what the conditions of surrender might include:
Automatically granting everyone currently residing in the Palestinian territories full and equal citizenship in the state of Israel.
Giving up the right of Palestinian refugees who live elsewhere to return.
Removing the physical wall that Israel has built around the West Bank and dismantling other checkpoints and limitations on Palestinian freedom of movement.
Referendums on the terms of surrender held to ensure popular adoption amongst both Palestinians and Israelis (past negotiations have failed on accusations that negotiating partners were seen as acting in a non-representative manner).
If such a proposal were made, it may come at a tremendous cost to the great pride of the Palestinians who have already suffered the humiliation and immeasurable pain of occupation and resistance these many long decades. People who support the notion of surrender may be identified as sellouts who are betraying the memory of all who were irreparably injured or slain fighting for their independence and dignity. However, this proposal could also prove to be a strategic death blow to the inequalities as they exist today. A full and final peaceful surrender of all Palestinian territories would prove to the world, once and for all, that Palestinians want peace and equality above all else. However, this is the sort of offer that Israel could not, should not, but is sure to refuse.
Why would Israel refuse?
Why would Israel refuse? Yes, the Israelis would gain control of all the land and resources to their hearts’ content such that they could secure their borders and feel safe from their existential threat of annihilation. However, they would also inherit the burden of diluting their Jewish majority with more Palestinians and having to provide them with equal opportunity, justice, housing, education, healthcare, and infrastructure (infrastructure that has been destroyed in the ongoing conflicts).
To mask the true motive for refusal, Israel would certainly raise "security concerns" about granting citizenship to the Palestinians. After all, aren't all or most of them terrorists or sympathizers bent on Israel's destruction? We should be prepared to identify this "security concern" for what it would truly be: discrimination and racism. If any country were to fear reprisal after granting equality and citizenship to a people they oppressed for decades upon decades, it should have been the United States on the eve of the Emancipation Proclamation. We cannot allow fear of a few individuals to prevent us from treating an entire group with equality and justice. Even criminals, whether Israeli or Palestinian, Jewish or non-Jewish, still deserve the basic human rights of presumed innocence and due process under a fair and impartial judicial system. All democracies face the threat of citizens abusing their freedoms to engage in criminal activity, but in the immortal words of Benjamin Franklin, "he who sacrifices freedom for security deserves neither."
Many cite the Hamas charter as evidence that there are some Palestinians who would never want to live peacefully with the Jews. They forget that Hamas dropped this rhetoric from their platform when they were democratically elected in 2006. Currently, the only charter relevant under the unity government with the PLO is the Palestinian National Covenant, in which all Israeli objections were addressed. Hamas has publicly clarified that they do not have animosity for Israel on the basis of its Jewish identity, but on the basis of its oppression. However, we see that Prime Minister Netanyahu himself has denied the rights and aspirations of Palestinians for their self-determination, and so has the Likud government through its own charter. It seems clear that we have demanded Hamas to recognize Israel, and they have delivered. Can we not expect the same from Israel?
But isn’t Hamas evil and inhumane? Why would anyone want to live with such savages? Didn’t they kidnap and kill those three Israeli teens? Oh, no they didn’t. Don’t they target civilians? Oh, no they don’t. Didn’t they hide weapons in three schools that were filled with civilians? Oh, no they didn’t. Don’t they use their families as human shields? Oh, no they don’t. Didn’t they break the ceasefire by kidnapping that one Israeli soldier? Oh, no they didn’t. Might it be that Hamas and the Palestinians are human too?
In fact, by all accounts, Hamas has unguided weapons and kills a majority of enemy combatants, while Israel has precision guided weapons and kills a majority of civilians. While some have strongly condemned the idea of Palestinians even attacking Israeli soldiers, why hasn’t the world condemned Israel’s apparent use of its abhorrent and illegal Dahiya doctrine once again?
In fact, by all accounts, Hamas has unguided weapons and kills a majority of enemy combatants, while Israel has precision guided weapons and kills a majority of civilians.
Currently, Israel's racism is able to hide behind the alleged equality it grants its Arab Israeli citizens, masking the injustices it perpetrates against the people living in the Palestinian territories to avoid the label of apartheid. However, with a full surrender of Palestine and any Palestinian demands for statehood, Israel would be exposed and fully responsible for the disparities between the Jewish and non-Jewish residents of Israel and the occupied territories. Its desire to maintain its Jewish identity at the expense of its democratic values would be tested, and there would be no more question about who really wants peace and democracy. Gerrymandering, ethnic cleansing, apartheid; all would be on the table if Israelis wish to maintain a country with Jewish control.
We could only hope in such a circumstance that Israel would be more inclined to stick to its democratic principles and accept the Palestinians as full and equal citizens. However, until the Israelis are faced with this moral dilemma publicly, could the world ever see whether Israel truly wants peace rather than power?
And then again, is it really decent for us to ask Palestinians for such a sacrifice, after all they’ve already suffered, just to make this point clearer for us?