by Peter A. Belmont / 2010-04-27
© 2010 Peter Belmont
Israelis often say that they cannot have a democratic state and remain a “Jewish State” (that is, have a large majority of Jewish citizens), if the Palestinian refugees from 1948 are granted a “right of return” to the villages of their ancestors.
This claim is only true if Israel insists on occupying any of the maximalist territories that suggest themselves: the 1947 UNGA proposal, the 1948-1967 territory, or the whole of Mandatory Palestine (Israel’s 1967-2010 territory).
If Israel will accept a smaller territory, the democratic Jewish state can indeed be accomplished in a manner not inconsistent with a Palestinian right of return.
This essay shows that it is possible (if not politically attractive for most Israeli Jews) for Israel to  be democratic,  maintain majority Jewish population, and  allow return of all the Palestinian refugees to Israel.
Israel likes to pretend to be a democracy, presumably as a way of “making nice” with the USA and its Jewish population. But Israel ceased to be a democracy at birth when, after having sent 85% of its non-Jewish (i.e., “Palestinian”) population (about 750,000 people) into exile during the war of 1947-50, it subsequently (after the state of Israel had been declared) refused to allow readmittance to the exiles. Israel regarded the refugees as enemies, not in the sense of military enemies, but in the sense of demographic enemies—there would be but a small Jewish majority, if a Jewish majority at all, in the territory Israel conquered in the war of 1947-50 if the exiles were permitted to return to their homes. The UNGA repeatedly called on Israel to allow peaceable refugees to return, but Israel was no longer listening to the UNGA. A country which exiles 50% or more of its population and thereby prevents them from voting and other democratic participation, is no democracy.
(If you doubt this, ask yourself whether, if by some magic the 20% non-Jewish population of Israel were able to send the 80% Jewish population of Israel into exile, the exiled Jews would thereafter—for the duration of such exile—consider Israel, as thus demographically rearranged, to be “democratic”.)
(As I write, it is reported that Israel is again preparing to deport Palestinians, this time from the occupied territories. Some will be deported from the West Bank to Gaza, where they will become prisoners as all Gazans are today, and others will be deported to Jordan or elsewhere. Shamefully, the USA, ever the willing prisoner of Zion, let’s these travesties go on without comment and without adverse reaction. One is not proud to be an American these days—or to be a Jew, due to the Israeli claim to be the country of the Jewish people.)
But returning to my topic. OK. Israel likes to be considered democratic and wants to maintain a large Jewish majority in its population so that it may consider itself “a Jewish state.” Discussions of eventual peace with the Palestinians always run up against Palestinian claims of a “right of return” for the Palestinian refugees from 1948 and their progeny to return to the villages from which they left in 1948, a claim which Israel routinely promises to deny.
How, then, as I suggest, is it possible for Israel to be democratic, majority Jewish, and subject to a Palestinian right of return? Sounds fantastic? Not at all.
All that is necessary is that—in the peace treaty between Israel and the Palestinians which must, inter alia, set the boundaries of the two states—Israel choose a smaller territory for itself than it occupied from 1948-1967, indeed, perhaps a smaller territory even than that proposed by the UNGA in 1947. This smaller territory must be carefully chosen as a territory which had relatively few Palestinian residents in 1947, or, more usefully, a territory from which fewer Palestinian refugees are now registered as having come.
If the “new” (post peace) Israel is small enough, and if all the Jewish Israelis move into it when peace is achieved, then the Palestinian refugees registered as having their origin in that smaller territory may be allowed to return to the villages of their own (or their ancestors’) residence in 1947 without increasing the non-Jewish population of this new and smaller Israel sufficiently to erase the Jewish majority. Furthermore, the remainder of Mandatory Palestine will have become the “new Palestine” and will be so much larger than the West Bank and Gaza that most refugees will be entitled to return to “new Palestine” rather than to “new Israel” on the basis of their ancestral village, and the others may choose to go there anyway.
By this means, a new and smaller (leaner and meaner?) Israel will have the opportunity to be democratic, to be majority (and perhaps substantial majority) Jewish, and to satisfy international pressures for a right of return of Palestinians displaced in 1947-50.
As I write, Israel has never seemed as fiercely caught up in expansionism—expanding settlements all over the West Bank—and as fiercely caught up in further steps to exile even more Palestinians. It is almost as if a fever of “last days” is coming over the right-wing government and it is acting in a frenzy of totalitarian and anti-human-rights activities almost like the proverbial bad boys who wants to be punished—or like the bad boy who knows he will never be punished and feels like exercising his guaranteed immunity from law and impunity from punishment “to the hilt.”
The world, and the USA, may wake up to this or may not. History does not make me hopeful whatever President Obama may say. But this essay at least shows that one of the goals often spoken by Israelis—to be democratic and to be a Jewish State is not inconsistent with the world’s goal of a Palestinian right of return.