Israel’s demographic dilemma

Palestine Update 260

Israel’s demographic dilemma
In the ultimate analysis, it is clear that Israel has a single agenda. It is to assume complete control over all Palestinian territories. Annexation is not a new strategy; it has been part of Zionist designs from the very inception.

Simply because the Zionist project itself is unjust, it is also untenable. It totters and stutters through its every political design to protect the Jewish minority whilst, at the same time, seeking to stamp its dominance over Palestinians through taking control over all their lands.

Even with all the military might in its hands, and all the international backing it has mustered through questionable means, Israel is unable to make the breakthrough it wants. It, therefore, creates facts-on-the-ground, and launches political initiatives to back its agenda.

Israel ends up with more of the same – having to contend the inerasable reality of being a minority in their own settler-colonial state.

In the article we share below, we read how the so-called ‘Peace to prosperity’ workshop in Bahrain was the latest proxy effort of the US to ensure Israel remains a Jewish state – and to deny rights to the people whose land it has stolen. How far will this agenda succeed? Will it go anywhere at all?

Please read this insightful article by Joseph Massad.  Joseph Massad is Professor of Modern Arab Politics and Intellectual History at Columbia University in New York. His books include Colonial Effects: ‘The Making of National Identity in Jordan, Desiring Arabs’, ‘The Persistence of the Palestinian Question: Essays on Zionism and the Palestinians’, and most recently ‘Islam in Liberalism’ have been translated to a dozen languages.

Ranjan Solomon
‘Deal of the century’: Safeguarding Israel’s Jewish minority
By Joseph Massad
Since its inception, the Zionist project to colonize Palestine has been determined and uncompromising, while also demonstrating ideological innovation and acrobatics in packaging its theft of the country. While the initial goal was to create a Jewish majority in Palestine, successfully achieved for a few decades through the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in 1948 and 1967, Zionists have more recently had to face the old/new reality of Jews as a minority in their own settler-colonial state.

Jewish priests pray at the Western Wall in Jerusalem


The ‘demographic danger’ 
The Israeli government has been obsessing about the dwindling numbers of Jews and rising numbers of Palestinian under its rule for decades. This has led it to convene several conferences on the “demographic danger” Palestinians constitute to its racist colonial settler project. “The high birthrate [of Palestinian citizens of Israel] brings into question the future of Israel as a Jewish state…The present demographic trends, should they continue, challenge the future of Israel as a Jewish state. “Israel has two alternative strategies: adaptation or containment. The latter requires a long-term energetic Zionist demographic policy that’s political, economic, and educational effects would guarantee the Jewish character of Israel.

”Anti-colonial resistance
As Zionism emerged at the end of the 19th century, during colonialism’s heyday, it was proud to be part of Europe’s global colonial endeavours. The Jewish Colonization Association (JCA), established in 1891 to fund Jewish colonies in North and South America, especially in Argentina, also began to fund Jewish colonies in Palestine after 1896. Once the Zionist movement decided, less than a decade later, to focus exclusively on colonizing Palestine, it was decided that the JCA be also transformed. In 1924, it was formally renamed the Palestine Jewish Colonization Association, and its funds were exclusively used for Jewish colonization of Palestine. In 1899, the first Zionist bank was founded, appropriately called the Jewish Colonial Trust, to buy Palestinian land for the exclusive use of Jews.

A Palestinian child looks at Israeli soldiers standing guard as settlers stroll through the Hebron market

Beginning in the 1930s, at the height of anti-colonial resistance in Asia and Africa, Zionists began to suggest changes to their ideological vocabulary. Frederick Kisch, chairman of the Palestine Zionist Executive in charge of Jewish colonization of Palestine, noted in his diary in 1931 that he was “striving to eliminate the word ‘colonization’ … from our phraseology.  Since the 1950s, Zionist propagandists worked hard to recode the settler-colonial project as one of national liberation for Jews “The word is not appropriate from our point of view since one does not set up colonies in a homeland but abroad: e.g. German colonies on the Volga or Jewish colonies in the Argentine, while from the point of view of Arab opinion the verb to ‘colonize’ is associated with imperialism and aggressiveness.”

Since the 1950s, Zionist propagandists worked hard to recode the Zionist settler-colonial project as one of national liberation for Jews. Claiming that the establishment of the state of Israel was not a colonial act but rather an act of “independence” from colonialism, Israel tried to erase the history of the debate among Zionist leaders over what to name the document they intended to issue on 14 May 1948. When some suggested calling it a “declaration of independence,” they were voted down. The Zionists appropriately called it “The Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel”. While the declaration mentions Jewish aspirations to “independent nationhood”, it does not refer to establishing Israel as an “independent” state, but rather as a “Jewish” state. This was no oversight, but the result of a rejection of an amendment adding the words “sovereign independent” to the declaration. Still, Israeli apologists would at best admit, without irony, that the country might have been established through colonization but not colonialism.

Israel’s ‘right to exist’
From the 1950s through the 1990s, Israel insisted that Arab states recognize its “right to exist” – a formula no other state has ever required, because in international law, a state can be recognized de facto or de jure, but none has a legal “right to exist”. By the 1970s, as the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) insistently called for the Palestinian people to realise their right to self-determination, Israel countered with so-called “Israeli self-determination”. This would be expressed in September 1972 by Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban, who declared that “Israeli self-determination should take moral and historical precedence over Palestinian self-determination, though it does not rule it out entirely”.

Israeli flag is pictured at a Hebron Israeli settlement


By 2007, the Israeli government of Ehud Olmert, and Benjamin Netanyahu thereafter, insisted that since Egypt and Jordan and the PLO – transformed through the Oslo Accords from a liberation movement to a subsidiary of Israeli colonialism – were forced to recognize Israel’s “right to exist” as a settler-colony, the new task before the Palestinians and all other Arabs was to recognize Israel as a “Jewish state”, which would privilege Jews racially and religiously over non-Jews. In this last phase, Israeli propagandists began to speak of “Jewish self-determination” rather than “Israeli self-determination”. This was formalized last year in Israel’s nation-state law, which declared: “The State of Israel is the national home of the Jewish people, in which it fulfills its … historical right to self-determination. The right to exercise national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish people.”

Legitimizing state-sponsored racism
Self-determination was never previously advanced, either as a legal principle or as a right, by the Zionist movement or in Israeli law. Indeed, it was not even mentioned in key Zionist ideological documents historically – not in the writings of Theodor Herzl, nor the Balfour Declaration, nor the League of Nations mandate, nor the UN Partition Plan, nor the Zionist “Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel.” 

Rather, Israel’s “right to exist as a Jewish state” is the formula several US presidents insisted that Palestinians and other Arabs accept. From George W Bush to Barack Obama, Palestinians were threatened with dire consequences if they refused. The new code for that right is “Jewish self-determination”. President Donald Trump’s “deal of the century” aims to legitimize, once and for all, the Zionist settler-colonial project and its right to state-sponsored racism. Israel’s leaders now accept that Jewish colonists and their descendants will forever be a minority in historic Palestine, especially as prior measures to make them a majority through ethnic cleansing and expulsion are no longer available options.

Unable to further reduce the number of Palestinians, Trump’s plan aims to categorically negate Palestinian refugees’ right of return to their homeland, guaranteed by international law, by undercutting UNRWA, the agency that provides them with vital aid. Yasser Arafat explained in a 2002 New York Times article that he understood Israel’s racist “demographic concerns” as far as the Palestinian right of return was concerned.

Lining the pockets of businessmen

As for the Palestinian majority living under Israeli colonialism and Jewish minority rule, the Israeli nation-state law has eroded their rights completely. The point of the exclusivity of self-determination for the Jewish colonists is that it must be exercised regardless of demographics. Israel had no choice but to drop its liberal-democratic pretence.

This week’s “workshop” in Bahrain for “peace” and “prosperity” is simply a compensatory mechanism for the unwavering US support of Israel’s refusal to vacate any of the stolen Palestinian land, or to grant any rights to the majority Palestinian population still living on that land, whom it can no longer expel. In place of granting Palestinians – who have been victims of all previous US and Israeli deals – their internationally recognized rights, the “deal of the century” offers to line the pockets of Palestinian and Arab rulers and businessmen who have been the beneficiaries of many previous US deals.