The handwringing about democracy and demographics in Israel-Palestine is not new. Harvard political scientist Nadav Safran observed 44 years ago in his From War to War: the Arab-Israeli Confrontation, 1948-1967, that the Six Day War created a lot of new opportunities and dangers. “Economically,” Safran wrote, “the occupation has not, on balance, been much of a burden on Israel.” History is bearing out just how naive that sentiment was. But on a military level,
Israel is in a better position to defend the territories now under its control than the territory it controlled before the war… Much nonsense has been written as to how the Israeli occupation of vast territories inhabited by about one million Arabs created conditions favorable for a popular war of liberation in the Algerian, Vietnamese, or Cuban style. Such views forget that Sinai, accounting for some 95 percent of the occupied area, is virtually empty and is climatically forbidding to the movement and survival of guerillas.… [T]he entire Arab population in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip is relatively small by comparison to Israel’s, that Israel’s economy is totally independent of it, and that therefore Israel holds an ultimate sanction which none of the powers fought by guerillas elsewhere had: driving out the entire population. (Italics mine)
It is obvious by now that a few of what were reasonable assumptions at the time no longer apply because of changed “facts on the ground.” Safran writes that the people who pushed for annexation of the West Bank “includes extreme left-wing idealists harking back to the idea of a binational state, as well as right-wing chauvinists who dream of a ‘Greater Israel’ stretching on both sides of the Jordan; pious Jews and romantic atheists; people who seek a Jewish-Arab symbosis after the Christian-Moslem model of Lebanon, and people who seek lebensraum and incentive for massive immigration; ‘hard-nosed realists’ who mistrust peace treaties with the Arabs, and deliberate ‘levantinizers’ who wish to see Israel become a Middle Eastern state; and so on.”
The historian, writing from the temporal perspective of the late 1960s, worries about what we know call demographic trends and what losing an ethnoreligious majority in The Land will portend for the future of having a Jewish state in the former British mandate of Palestine. Safran writes of the former Jordanian possession of the West Bank that “the great majority of Israelis” have strongly opposed annexation
on the grounds that Israel could not absorb one million Arabs in addition to its 300,000 Arab citizens without losing its identity as a democratic, egalitarian Jewish state. With a total Arab population of 1,300,000 growing naturally at about twice the natural rate of growth of the 2,300,000 Jewish population, it would not be long before the Arabs constituted a majority. … [I]f the Arabs were given full citizenship rights, Israel would cease to be a Jewish state altogether after the Arabs became a majority, and its Jewish character would begin to change drastically even before that time due to the political play of a very large Arab minority.
In other words, Israel would transform into a state of all its citizens, which is a very threatening concept. If the Palestinians in the West Bank remain under Israeli occupation without rights, “Israel would lose its democratic character and enter upon a South African type of career,” he writes. To put it more bluntly, the choice for the future is democracy or apartheid. And the future is now.