TO believe in a democratic Jewish state today is to be caught between the jaws of a pincer.For Beinart's thesis to be correct, you must believe that the Palestinian Authority and the PLO has no political legitimacy, or power.
On the one hand, the Israeli government is erasing the “green line” that separates Israel proper from the West Bank. In 1980, roughly 12,000 Jews lived in the West Bank (excluding East Jerusalem). Today, government subsidies have helped swell that number to more than 300,000. Indeed, many Israeli maps and textbooks no longer show the green line at all.
In 2010, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel called the settlement of Ariel, which stretches deep into the West Bank, “the heart of our country.” Through its pro-settler policies, Israel is forging one political entity between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea — an entity of dubious democratic legitimacy, given that millions of West Bank Palestinians are barred from citizenship and the right to vote in the state that controls their lives.
Yet it is recognized as a full state by 129 nations; its citizens vote (at least in theory) to elect their leaders, it has autonomy, a territory that all accept as controlled by its own security forces, a court system, an Olympic team, and its own passports. According to at least one distinguished legal scholar, it is considered a full state under international law. The World Bank is putting out reports about how ready the territories are for statehood. The entire Oslo process - that Israel still supports - was designed to give full self-determination to Palestinian Arabs in the territories, and (more recently) statehood. For Beinart to turn around and state that all of these don't exist, and that for some reason the territories are (as he tries to coin the term) "nondemocratic Israel," is nonsense. Israel has no intention of integrating Ramallah or Jericho into Israel. And as recently as January, Israel tried to hold negotiations with the PLO, and the other side refused.
Beinart, in his attempt to sound an alarm for Israeli democracy, chooses quite deliberately to ignore everything that happened to the Palestinian Arabs since 1994.
It is Palestinian Arab intransigence, not Israeli settlements, that has stopped a Palestinian Arab state. Beinart's willingness to blame only one side shows that he is not being as evenhanded and "pro-Israel" as he tirelessly claims to be.
But, you might counter, what about Area C? Israel does indeed control all aspects of the lives of Arabs who live there, and while they vote in PA elections, they do not have much say in their own political affairs. Doesn't Israel's presence there endanger Israeli democracy?
The number of Palestinian Arabs in Area C is about 150,000 (about 2.5% of all Palestinian Arabs.) Which means that the percentage of people living under Israeli sovereignty who do not have political rights is, today, about 1.9%.
By way of contrast, the percentage of people living in US territories who are not represented in Congress and who cannot vote in presidential elections - those in Puerto Rico, Guam, the US Virgin Islands and elsewhere - is about 1.3%.
So is Israel's control of Area C a danger to Israeli democracy? Not unless you think that US territories endanger US democracy too. The idea is ridiculous. It is an issue, it is not a death-blow to democracy.
To go further, if Israel would decide to annex Area C, wouldn't that solve all the problems? No demographic issue, giving the Arabs there full citizenship - and Beinart's argument is down the drain.
Somehow, I don't think that Beinart would support that solution, or even a modified version of that solution. Because he has bought into the Palestinian Arab narrative that the artificially constructed 1949 armistice lines - which were not considered international borders before 1967 and were always meant to be modified in a final peace agreement between Israel and the Arab world - are somehow special, and that no peace can possibly result from a change in those lines that would include, say, Ariel. (He sort of says that he agrees that some of the border settlements would end up in Israel, and then tells those "settlers" to throw the more "ideological" settlers under the bus. Yay for Jewish unity!)
But there is no proof that this is true. Is is simply an assertion on the part of Palestinian Arabs, who repeat it over and over again so much that people like Peter Beinart believe it. And, whether they realize it or not, "pro-Israel Jews" like Beinart - by writing op-eds that accept this false premise - end up increasing Palestinian intransigence.
They are not helping peace at all.
What does Beinart think about the Clinton parameters, or the Olmert offer? They were clearly sufficient to demolish all of his arguments about a threat to Israeli democracy. Yet instead of slamming the PLO for its rejection of those peace plans, he continues insistence on the 1967 lines. Beinart buys into the Palestinian Arab narrative. Instead of telling them that they should compromise and bring a lasting peace, he is telling them implicitly that they should buckle down and wait for American Jews like himself to pressure Israel to accept all of their demands.
The eventual border between Israel and a Palestinian Arab state must be negotiated. Moving it a bit to the east does not endanger Israeli democracy nor does it endanger Palestinian statehood. It doesn't even endanger Palestinian Arab contiguity, as any glance at a map would prove. This is self-evident, but repeated Palestinian Arab assertions that it is not "acceptable" are swallowed whole by a lot of otherwise smart people who believe they are pro-Israel.
I'm sorry, but this is not a pro-Israel argument, and op-eds like this do not bring peace any closer. Quite the contrary.
(h/t Avi for some ideas)