Sunday, September 5, 2010

Are Israelis And Palestinians Reaching The Last Chance To Divide The Land?

As Israelis and Palestinians engage in a new round of negotiations, Middle East experts and politicians are warning that the parties may be evolving toward a time when the two-state solution will become impossible to implement. The situation on the ground is not static; Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, along with demographics, challenge the viability of dividing the land–with dire consequences for both peoples. Nathan Guttman outlined the factors in The Jewish Daily Forward:

The first is the land. As Israeli settlements spread out, and the road system built to serve settlers expands, the amount of land left for Palestinians decreases continuously, and the idea of a contiguous state becomes more difficult to realize, because of roads and settlement blocs that cut through the region.

East Jerusalem — at least portions of which will have to go to the Palestinians as their capital to construct a viable state, according to most analysts — is also part of this concern. Within the city, Israel has been encouraging Israeli Jews to purchase houses and settle in Arab neighborhoods, which makes the idea of dividing the capital into all-Arab and all-Jewish neighborhoods more difficult to realize. In addition, Israel has constructed a string of Jewish settlements all around East Jerusalem, all but cutting off access to the city from the Palestinian areas of the West Bank. The Palestinians maintain that the West Bank without East Jerusalem, their largest commercial and industrial center, would not be economically viable as a state.

The second key factor is the demographic makeup of Israel and the Palestinian territories. Currently, between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River, there are an estimated 5.6 million Jews and 5.1 million Arabs. Given the higher birthrate on the Arab side, Arabs could become the majority within five to 10 years, thus making Jews a minority group ruling the country. Israelis fear that once Arabs gain a demographic advantage, they could put forward a “one man, one vote” demand that would put an end to the notion of Israel as a Jewish state.

“If the road to partition is blocked, Israel will be forced to choose between two terrible options: Jewish-dominated apartheid or non-Jewish democracy,” Gadi Taub of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem warned in an op-ed published August 30 in The New York Times.

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