Israel’s long-term future is the subject of Hirsh Goodman’s timely and penetrating book, The Anatomy of Israel’s Survival (McClelland & Stewart).
Goodman – a senior research associate at Tel Aviv University’s Jaffe Center for Strategic Studies, a founder of the Jerusalem Report and a former Jerusalem Post defence correspondent – suggests that two factors will essentially determine this question: Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and its relationship with its primary ally, the United States.
Claiming that Israel’s presence in the West Bank is not in its national interest, he says, “For Israel to survive as a democratic Jewish state, the status quo has to change.”
He adds, “Israel’s occupation is not right. Its settlement policies are not right. The behaviour of fringe settler groups against the Palestinians and their land-grabbing activities are scandalous and criminal.”
In short, Goodman notes, Israel must terminate its occupation, either through an agreement or unilaterally with the Palestinian Authority. “Doing so is very much key to Israel’s survival, if not the key.”
At the heart of this issue is demography, which he bluntly describes as “Israel’s biggest enemy.” As he puts it, “Today there is virtual parity between the 5.7 million Jews and 5.4 million Arabs in Israel and the territories. With the population of the [Gaza Strip] doubling every 10 years and the birthrate on the West Bank a full percentile point higher than that of Jewish Israelis, numerical equality between them will soon be reached, after which the Palestinians will surpass the Jews.”
The implications cannot be wished away. Once the Arab population passes the Jewish population, Israel will be faced with a bleak choice.
If the Israeli government gives the Palestinian Arabs equal rights and the right to vote, Israel will ultimately turn into a binational state of all its citizens and residents. If Israel fails to grant them such rights, Israel will degenerate into a non-democratic, even apartheid, state.
To Goodman, a sober and pragmatic liberal, the choice seems crystal clear.
In his view, Israel can sidestep this dilemma by reaching an accord with the current Palestinian leadership in the West Bank, headed by Mahmoud Abbas.
“With Israel and the Palestinians at peace, no Arab country will have moral justification for going to war with Israel,” he claims. “Instead of isolation, Israel will enjoy the support of the rational world.”
According to Goodman, time favours neither Israel nor the Palestinians: “The longer peace is delayed, the farther away are the chances for a two-state solution. Demography is moving Israel to the right and the Palestinians to fundamentalism.”
Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, saw the writing on the wall in the wake of the Six Day War, warning that Jews could become a minority in their own country if they did not dispose of the territories. But one of his successors, Golda Meir, was blinded by Israel’s power and did not foresee what may well lie in store for Israel, says Goodman.
Being a realist, Goodman acknowledges that peace with the Palestinians is not possible now, given the fact that Hamas controls Gaza. In his view, the divided Palestinians will have to sort out their differences before Israel can make peace with all of them.
The other key to Israel’s survival is its alliance with the United States, he observes.
“America is critical to Israel’s deterrence, and Israel’s military would not be the fighting force it is were it not for American arms sales, financial support and technology sharing. The United States is Israel’s guardian angel. It stands up for Israel at the United Nations and other hostile international forums, has a strong influence over Europe’s attitude toward Israel, and has shielded Israel from boycotts, embargoes and other hurtful actions. Over the years, America has dispensed tens of billions of dollars in aid to Israel.”
Goodman argues that Israel will enjoy the support of Washington only as long as it is regarded as a strategic asset. In practice, this means that Israel cannot spring unilateral surprises on the United States, let alone run spies, such as Jonathan Pollard, on it.
In his opinion, Israeli settlements in the territories are an impediment to its relationship with the United States and harmful to its own broader interests
“Settlements waste resources, complicate any prospect of peace, compromise Israel as a democracy and give ammunition to Israel’s enemies,” he observes.
But Jewish settlers who wish to remain in the West Bank after an Israeli withdrawal should be permitted to do so, he says.
Israel may yet face a nuclear threat from Iran in the worst-case scenario, he goes on to say. Yet strangely enough, Israel owes the Iranian regime a debt of gratitude: “Their threats and capabilities have forced Israel to focus its mind like never before, with an end result that keeps Israel at the cutting edge of technology, and its economy vibrant and productive.”
Israel will survive, Goodman believes. The real question is what kind of a country it will be in the years ahead.
Israel cannot continue to be an occupier. “Occupation will lead to the erosion of Israel’s moral fibre,” he warns, adding that “secure, permanent and recognized boundaries are integral to statehood and independence. There is no such thing as a permanent country with temporary borders.”
It is not too late for Israel to extricate itself from the West Bank, Goodman says. “If it cannot be done with the Palestinians, it has to be done unilaterally.”
Israel should preferably end the occupation by negotiating with the West Bank-based PA , hoping it can deliver Gaza, he says.
He is ambivalent as to whether Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is capable of signing an agreement with the Palestinians. Netanyahu has the credentials to lead and succeed. But he gives the impression he is more dedicated to holding his right-wing coalition together than “to the future of his country.”
The Anatomy of Israel’s Survival raises important issues that cannot be swept under the rug. Goodman should be commended for bringing them to the attention of Canadians.