Monday, 4 January 2016

Can Israel Annex the West Bank Without Compromising the State's Jewish Identity?

Many Jews and Israelis including myself would love to see Israel formally annex Judea and Samaria, otherwise known as the West Bank.  But of course, many people say that doing so would compromise Israel's Jewish identity because there are as many as three million Palestinian Arabs now living in the disputed territory.  Assuming that they were all given the full rights of Israeli citizenship, Israel would be left with a razor-thin Jewish majority that would become a minority within a decade or two. My problem with this argument, mostly put forth by leftists and proponents of the so-called two-state solution, is that it wrongfully assumes that Israel would have to give all of the Palestinian Arabs living in Judea and Samaria citizenship.  I would actually contend that Israel has no obligation to make Palestinians in the West Bank citizens.  Predictably, my opponents will counter by saying that if Israel doesn't give these Palestinians citizenship, it will become an apartheid state.  Also not true.

Those of you who know the history of the Israeli-Arab conflict will know that after the 1948 War of Independence, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan formally annexed the territory that most of the world now calls the West Bank and gave all the inhabitants thereof Jordanian citizenship.  Jordan took responsibility for the Palestinian residents of the territory - a responsibility that it cannot just wipe away at the stroke of a pen.  Hence, if Palestinians now living in the Biblical Jewish territories of Judea and Samaria want to be in a country where they have the rights that citizenship gives people, most notably voting rights, then they are free to go to Jordan.  Besides, what the world now calls Jordan rightfully belongs to the Arabs who call themselves Palestinians, for it was wrongly seized from them and given to the Hashemites by the British (see: Jordan: The Real Occupied Palestine).

Moreover, if Israel did decide to annex Judea and Samaria without giving the Palestinian residents therein citizenship, it certainly wouldn't be the first time a country has withheld citizenship from some of its residents in order to protect its identity.  In fact, many countries in the Arab world do the same thing and receive little or no international condemnation for doing so.  For example, the majority of the people residing in the United Arab Emirates are not Emiratis or even Arabs.  They're mostly non-Arab guest workers and permanent residents.  In order to protect its national identity, the UAE grants citizenship only to those deemed to be descendants of the indigenous Arab population. A similar situation also exists in countries like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman, where there are sizable, non-indigenous populations whose people are not afforded the rights of citizenship.  And guess which group of people never get full rights of citizenship in Arab countries?  Give up?  It's the Palestinians!  That's right.  For all the talk from dictators and despots about Arab brotherhood, Palestinians living in the various Arab states are given few if any rights, let alone citizenship.  In Lebanon, for example, a Palestinian not only has no vote; he or she cannot even be a doctor, lawyer, or member of any other distinguished and respected profession.  In fact, the only place in which any Palestinian is given full, equal rights of citizenship is in the State of Israel.  Even Palestinians in Jordan do not really enjoy all the rights that should come with being a citizen, because although they have a vote, they cannot change their country's government, which is under the firm control of the Hashemite dynasty, whose origins lie in Mecca rather than what we now call Jordan.  So Israel should certainly be forgiven if it decides to annex Judea and Samaria without giving the millions of Palestinians therein citizenship in order to protect its identity and preserve Jewish independence.

I believe that if Israel does eventually decide to formally annex the West Bank, the Palestinian residents should be given the same rights that permanent residents of any modern, democratic country are given, which include the right to work, freedom of movement and access to social services. Indeed, I think that if Palestinians in Judea and Samaria were offered such rights, they would welcome annexation. It's generally known, for example, that Palestinian residents on the eastern side of Jerusalem, would prefer to remain part of Israel rather than part of a dysfunctional Palestinian state led by corrupt despots.  That being said, Israel could only promise the Palestinians the rights that permanent resident status would give them if they agreed to put an end to their terrorist activities and accept the existence of the State of Israel.    

Saturday, 2 January 2016

Netanyahu Strives to Improve the Lives of Minorities in Israel, and so do I

This past week, the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took a big step towards improving the lives of minority communities in Israel.  His government passed a plan worth NIS 15 billion (nearly 4 billion U.S. dollars) to invest in the infrastructure of Arab municipalities (see: Gov't approves NIS 15 billion to invest in Arab municipalities).  The plan is designed to narrow the significant gaps that exist in areas like transportation, education and housing that exist between minority communities and the Jewish majority.  By pushing through this program, Netanyahu has reaffirmed Israel's commitment to the fair treatment of its non-Jewish ethnic and religious minorities. Unfortunately, the media and many leaders in the international community have made Israel look like the worst place on Earth to be if you're an Arab or part of some other minority group.  The truth is, however, that Israel is light years ahead of its neighbors in the Middle East in terms of protecting the rights and interests of minorities.  In fact, Israel may even be ahead of some countries in the West when it comes to the treatment of minorities.  For example, the Arab citizens of Israel enjoy on average a much higher standard of living than most of their kinsmen in the Arab states.  This isn't to say, however, that Israel can't improve the lot of minorities any more than it already has.  Indeed, there are plenty of other steps that Netanyahu and his government can and should take to improve the status and well-being of Israel's non-Jewish citizens.

One major issue that comes to mind in regards to discrimination against Israel's non-Jewish citizens is the issue of land rights.  The fact of the matter is that the way land is allocated to the country's citizens is unfair to those who are not Jewish.  For example, the government bodies charged with making and administering land policy are not required to have non-Jewish representation.  The law does require, however, that half of the members of the council which heads the Israel Lands Administration be from the Jewish National Fund (JNF).  The JNF, like the Jewish Agency and the World Zionist Organization, is a quasi-national institution that pre-dates the State of Israel itself.  The representation of the JNF in government institutions like the Israel Lands Administration is very problematic for minorities because it is accountable exclusively to Jews - and not just the Jewish citizens of Israel, but rather Jews around the world.  Hence, giving an organization like the JNF representation in a regulatory body that determines land policy in the state is not just unfair to Israel's non-Jewish citizens, but it also gives undue power to foreign Jews who are not citizens of Israel, hence compromising Israeli sovereignty.  I should also add that as the law stands in Israel now, state land cannot be transferred to anyone, except to the Jewish National Fund, which gives residency rights on its land exclusively to Jews and no one else.  In 2000, the Supreme Court ruled that the JNF's practice of selling its land only to Jews was illegal, however the ruling did not set a nation-wide precedent. Moreover, a law passed in 2011 has given some communities another way to prevent non-Jews from putting down roots in the form of admission committees, which can reject a potential resident if he or she is "unsuitable to the social life of the community...or the social and cultural fabric of the town (see: "Admissions Committees Law" - Cooperative Societies Ordinance - Amendment No. 8).  In my humble opinion, the next step that Netanyahu and his government should take to improve the status and well-being of Israel's non-Jewish citizens is to kick the JNF and the rest of the quasi-national, dinosaur organizations out of the state's land and planning institutions and ensure fair representation for minority communities.

Another step that I think Netanyahu and his government should take is to eliminate legal discrimination based on non-Jewish citizens' refusal to accept the definition of Israel as a "Jewish and democratic state."  I would submit that non-Jewish citizens need only recognize the State of Israel, period.  Simply recognizing the State of Israel implies recognizing a Jewish state, because Israel as a non-Jewish state wouldn't be Israel.  Hence, I don't believe it is necessary for the Israeli government to outlaw participation of political parties or withdraw government funding from minority institutions just because they choose to commemorate the so-called Nakba and don't accept the government's definition of what Israel is.  If political parties, organizations or institutions actively call for the destruction of Israel, that's a totally different story and they should be punished to the full extent of the law.  But having another opinion on how Israel should be defined or how its history should be defined is not a just basis for discrimination.  Besides, there are parties and politicians currently sitting in Netanyahu's government from the Haredi parties who surely do not accept Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, because of their belief that a Jewishness and modern democracy don't mix - yet I don't see anyone trying to ban Haredim or their parties from participating in Israeli politics, nor do I see funding reduced for Haredi institutions that teach anything but democracy and equal rights.  Does anyone else see the double standard here, because I certainly do.

I've studied Israel's policies towards its non-Jewish minorities for years and have written more on the subject of minority rights in Israel than I can remember, as have many well-known scholars and political figures.  I have only highlighted a couple of issues in this post that I believe are the most pressing in regards to Israel's non-Jewish citizens, but of course this is not the whole story.  If you want to know more about Israeli policies that some of the country's non-Jewish citizens claim are discriminatory, please visit The Discriminatory Laws Database as published by Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel.  Please note, however, that Adalah's views are not necessarily my own.  For example, the organization implies that Israel's flag and coat of arms should be changed because they exclude non-Jewish citizens.  While I agree that Israel should do what it can to ensure full equality between Jewish and non-Jewish citizens, I do not support the notion of dumping our Jewish national identity, because to do so would be to destroy Israel itself.