Monday July 28, 2014
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28.07.2014
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Sowing terror, while reaping benefits from talks
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Dan Margalit

Demographics and Netanyahu's trial balloon

Habayit Hayehudi Chairman Naftali Bennett's belligerent speech at the annual Institute for National Security Studies conference held in Tel Aviv earlier this week left an upset audience in its wake.

He promised his audience good news: We can hold on to the entire country, as the demographic threat has passed. Bennett found an increase in Jewish women's birth rate and a parallel decrease in Arab women.

That theory held up just until he left the conference hall and ran into demographic expert Professor Sergio Della Pergola. Such trends exist, the latter told Bennett, but you have misunderstood them.

Jews are older than Arabs, so even if there is a change in the overall nature of the birth rate, the trend itself is opposite. There are relatively more Arabs and fewer Jews between the sea and the Jordan River every year. The trend exists within the Green Line. He would be happy to elaborate further, Della Pergola told Bennett. Now all we have to do is wait and see whether Bennett decides to meet with the esteemed professor.

Demography has been a bone of contention in Israeli society since 1967, and the nature of this question had lent itself to many of the debates on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, including the most recent one, about whether or not the Palestinian Authority should host a Jewish minority within the borders of its future state.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sent up a trial balloon to that effect, and both Bennett and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas immediately negated the idea. But MK Shelly Yachimovich (Labor) revealed recently that she discussed such a possibility with Abbas during her most recent visit to Ramallah, and he did not outright dismiss it.

The assumption is that only a few settlers would actually make use of such an option, should it be presented, and it stands to reason that the Palestinian government would spare no effort to ensure their safety. The peace deal would probably allow them to be drafted to the local police force and in any case, Israel Defense Forces patrols will be patrolling nearby.

The issue of Israeli settlements in the future Palestine was somewhat a forced one. An Israeli government has no interest in expelling Jews from their homes and it is willing to pay for that with alternative land. But truth be told -- the notion itself is a positive one.

Israel cannot abide the idea that there is any country in the world, let alone a neighboring country, that refuses to allow Jews to live in it -- that would represent the epitome of racism and apartheid.

The chances of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process becoming a reality will increase only if both nations recognize their respective minorities' rights to live within their borders, and not as a constraint.

Unfortunately, Abbas is a known peace rejectionist. Netanyahu is the third Israeli leader, after Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert, to have the Palestinian Authority's president avoid him. But had he struck peace based on a compromise between the parties' demands, Israel would have been able to retain the majority of the significant achievements gained during the 1967 Six-Day War: a return to the cradle of Jewish heritage in Temple Mount and in Jerusalem's Old City; settlement blocs in Judea and Samaria; security arrangements in the Jordan Valley; and access to every inch of Judea and Samaria.

What do Bennett and his ilk offer in return? Nothing. Not so much as suspended settlement construction pending a final agreement. They make only one claim -- that any time Jews had agreed to any division of land, Zionism suffered a setback. Nonsense.

Some 77 years ago, David Ben-Gurion forced the Zionist movement to agree to the division of Israel, as recommended by the British Mandate-appointed Peel Commission. Had such a tiny state been formed, it would have taken in many of the Jews who tried to breach the closed mandate gates, only to be murdered in the Holocaust.

A decade later, Ben-Gurion was once again willing to accept a division plan, in spite of the Bennetts of his day, who claimed that the Arabs would reject the plan. I believe that today, even staples of the Israeli Right such as former Irgun and Lehi members Geulah Cohen and Israel Eldad, and national poet Uri Zvi Grinberg, would have changed their tune regarding Ben Gurion's positions.

Had it not been for Ben-Gurion's insistence, there would be no Israel -- even if accepting the division plan resulted in a war initiated by the Arabs.

Fast forward 30 years, and Prime Minister Menachem Begin presented his people with the most important peace treaty in Israel's history -- the 1979 peace deal with Egypt, which has been sustained for 35 years and has been nothing but beneficial for Israel.

Back then, the Bennetts of the day fiercely denounced it. Begin was able to secure the necessary Knesset vote to approve the deal despite the opposition mounted by the Danny Danons, Yariv Levins, Ofir Akunises, Zeev Elkins and Tzipi Hotovely's of his day -- Haim Landau, Moshe Arens, Yitzhak Shamir and Olmert. Have they ever apologized for giving him such a hard time?

If Netanyahu can strike any kind of peace deal, even a loose one, and find a way to keep the cradle of our patrimony -- he should not listen to those who seek to deject him.

Netanyahu learned at home that Theodor Herzl sought to make his mark on the law of nations -- he understood that Zionism needed to be recognized by the international community. Netanyahu's rivals prattle about how unimportant the international community and the threats of boycott are, but he has a historic opportunity to connect with the worldview promoted by Herzl, Ben-Gurion and Begin.

Should Netanyahu follow in their footsteps, his minister, their deputies and the MKs, will resemble the Likud back in 1978, when it voted down the peace treaty with Egypt. This would also be a rare opportunity to see whether are Arab conflict is over, or just temporarily dormant.

 

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