Numbers matter. The numbers were against the apartheid regime in South Africa; eventually its leaders—and its last white prime minister, F.W. de Klerk—accepted that the regime of white minority rule was unsustainable. As long as Israel is content to remain within its present internationally recognized borders, it can maintain itself as a flourishing state that is both Jewish and democratic. The numbers mean that there is no threat to its Jewishness; accordingly there is no need to deny civil and political rights to the Arab minority.
It is this realization—apart from any sense of natural justice—that leads so many Israelis (though now perhaps a minority of them) to cling to the hope that the two-state solution, Israel side by side with an independent Palestine, may yet be achievable. That prospect seems more distant, however, with every year, as the military and security occupation of the West Bank is maintained and tightened and settlements continue to be built on Arab land.
Yet the notion that the whole Biblical Land of Israel could be a state that is both Jewish and democratic seems chimerical. It could be Jewish only if the Palestinian Arabs were treated as a subject people denied political rights; democratic only if Israelis accepted that one day there might be a majority Arab government.
So the dilemma remains acute, and there is no movement toward a resolution. The “dreary steeples of Fermanagh and Tyrone” represented a quarrel that lasted for many generations, and the Irish differences were far less extreme than those that divide Israel and Palestine. Nevertheless a starting point might be Israel’s acceptance of the justice of the warning John Kerry has delivered. A single state embodying the whole Biblical Land of Israel might be Jewish or democratic. It wouldn’t be both.
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