Looking back to the 1993 Oslo Accords, it is astounding that a series of distorted perspectives actually served as the catalyst for these negotiations. Moreover, these distortions, in turn, led to a series of events that has driven the Israeli people and, indeed, much of the world to pursue a flawed agenda for peace in the Middle East.
In retrospect, we can certainly point to several key issues that led Israel to follow this particular course in an attempt to solve the intractable conflict. These issues include the fear of an Arab demographic backlash in Israel, the security concerns perpetuated by that fear, the fundamental insurgency against Israel, and the desire of oil-centric nations to placate Arab financial interests -- not to mention the potential benefits that could be proffered to foreign leaders who were eager to make a name for themselves by solving this apparently insurmountable problem. Each one of these issues has contributed to 30-plus years of continuous diplomatic failure.
Even though Israel's prosperity has far surpassed that of her neighbors in the past 30 years, she remains the poorest developed nation in the world, with 23 percent of her residents living in poverty -- half of whom are Jews and the other half Muslims. Notwithstanding security, this is the most significant issue affecting Israel today. Granted, there have been numerous attempts to address the problem and, in fact, many improvements in this area have been made as a result. Still, there is a long way to go and developments must continue unabated if we are ever to overcome this fundamental human struggle. What's more, the poor are easily steered toward volatile behavior. This is especially true for those who depend on the torrent of privately funded and ideologically inspired social programs to provide the most basic necessities.
Since the declaration of Israel's Independence in 1948, large Muslim groups have been stuck in what we might think of as a refugee time warp. This predicament is not only applicable in Israel but in Jordan and Lebanon as well. For Israel, the demographic influence of these refugee populations is such that it eventually gave rise to significant support for a two-state solution. Fearing that Muslim population growth would eventually outrun that of the fledgling Jewish state, Israelis fell in behind the two-state proposal. The Palestinian Authority was born in the early 1960's and, capitalizing on this mounting Jewish fear of being outrun by its Arab brothers, the PA grew to consolidate the views of the landlocked Muslims bulging between Jordan and Jerusalem, and which came to in include those Muslims living in Gaza after the 1967 Six Day War.
In the past few decades, the fields of modern demography and statistics have improved significantly and, in the process, they have made it possible to distinguish between fact and fiction when it comes to projections of population growth. Looking at the statistical data that was used 30 years ago, we can now identify the specific inaccuracies that fueled Israel's demographic fear, inaccuracies that were inculcated into the rhetoric of the Palestinian Authority to further its agenda. One particular report issued by the Authority's Central Bureau of Statistics completely ignored internationally accepted statistical protocols by including in its count 325,000 people who had been abroad for more than 12 months. In 1997, they stipulated about 30 percent inflation in population growth, contrary to any other indicators. Yet despite common logic, both Israel as well as international leaders worldwide imbibed this propaganda and gave way to the fear mongering propagated by the Authority. The significance of this kind of data, inaccurate as it was, emboldened the Authority and underscored its hardest attempts to push Israel into granting political and territorial gains.
Like most politicking it's hard to admit mistakes, especially ones that are so blatantly in error. Unfortunately, in this case the shadow of this misguided era still hangs over Israel today. However, if Israel were to shift its policy, accepting the blunder of decades past and embracing a new course of thought based on an updated and accurate demographic model, her actions and attitudes would be very different. In fact, with the rectified model, it becomes clear that with the inclusion of the Muslim population in the regions of Judea and Samaria (i.e. the West Bank) Israel would be about 67 percent Jewish and if it were to include Gaza, the figure would be about 59 percent Jewish.
These numbers demonstrate a significant difference from those originally offered in which a vast Muslim majority was strongly anticipated. What has changed these numbers so significantly seems to be a rapidly bulging Total Fertility Rate (TFR) of birth per Jewish family accentuated by a fast decline in the Muslim TFR in the region. This population turnaround can practically be described as miraculous as, apart from Israel, no Western nation in the era of modern statistics has reversed a decline in its Total Fertility Rate. The facts on the ground have changed and that means that all of the negotiating cards should be back on the table. The bottom line is that a two-state solution may not represent the best bet for any of Israel's people!
Instead of two states, what might be in Israel's best interest is a program of selective citizenship along the lines of what the U.S. uses. In this model, Muslims who still live without a status could become eligible for an Israeli passport if they went through the process of first receiving a Resident Alien status, followed by three years of paying taxes and conforming to the country's laws, after which a citizenship test would be applied to those residents who wished to hold an Israeli passport. It is highly likely that many of those who are currently without status would either accept Israel's offer or return to their place of origin, but, in any event, they would be required to relinquish the persona non-grata status that they have lived with since 1948. This would pressure Jordan and Lebanon to act in a similar manner and resolve the status of the state-less people living in those countries since the time of the British Mandate.
It's ridiculous to think, for even one minute, that Jordan or Lebanon would consider ceding their land to these refugee populations. Yet this is exactly what is asked of Israel. It is a double standard so often invoked against Israel and it continues unabated! Before we can hope to see change, we must comprehend fully the impact of the Palestinian Authority's willingness to resort to distorted politics. We must appreciate that the Authority's own Central Bureau of Statistics would willingly participate in efforts to twist data, for that distortion has helped shape political opinion leaders and decision makers for decades. But it is now time for the undisputed facts to rule and to guide policy.
Imposed minority opinions that affect majority needs are the enemy of today's political systems. Our leaders fail continuously to distinguish the rhetoric from the essential values that must remain core if we are to create a just world. Poverty in Israel and all of its regions is rampant and no division of the country, let alone the city of Jerusalem, is capable of producing a better economic outcome for its constituents than that of unified government. Israel does a remarkable job managing its economy and that should be the most important fact in determining whether any people living in any of its boundaries west of the Jordan River should be subjected to a lesser authority, especially one that has distorted, cajoled and bantered its way without ever producing a consistent and significant plan to remove its people from the quagmire in which they find themselves.
Surely these people are entitled, by secret ballot, to determine whether they want to secede before the will of a corrupt authority is imposed through acts of gross political and diplomatic default?
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