The Implications of President Trump’s Jerusalem Ploy
The above notwithstanding, Trump’s ill-conceived Jerusalem initiative may yet have a positive consequence, however unintended. Nothing has been as harmful to the Palestinian struggle to end Israel’s occupation and unrelenting theft of territory intended for its state as Abbas’ insistence on the preservation of the Palestinian Authority and the myth that it serves as “a state in formation,” when it so clearly allowed Israel to solidify its occupation. Trump’s move on Jerusalem achieved what years of Israel’s settlements failed to do—shatter the illusion of a two-state outcome, and allow the Palestinian national movement to turn into a struggle for rights, which is to say a struggle to end Israel’s de facto apartheid regime, a course I have advocated for over a decade, and now increasingly embraced by younger Palestinians. What is particularly significant is that this younger generation is opting for a struggle for equal rights in a single state not because they despair of achieving a state of their own, but because it is their preferred solution. It is the right choice, for their struggle for a state of their own is one Palestinians cannot win, while a struggle to maintain an apartheid regime is one Israel cannot win.
If after what undoubtedly would be a long and bitter anti-apartheid struggle Palestinians prevail, they will be in the clear majority. Having established the principle that the majority can impose on the minority the religious and cultural identity of the State, Israel will not be in a strong position to deny Palestinians that same right. That will lead in time to a significant exodus of Israel’s Jews.
If Palestinians do not prevail, then the undeniable apartheid character of the state and the cost of the ongoing struggle will lead to the same result—an exodus of Israel’s Jews over time, creating an even greater demographic imbalance between the country’s Jewish and Arab populations. Palestinians will not leave because they will have nowhere to go.
The outcome is therefore likely to be the end of Israel as a Jewish state. If so, it will be an outcome brought about not by BDS movements but by Israelis themselves, not only because of their rejection of the two-state solution, but because of their insistence on defining Israel’s national identity and territorial claims in religious terms. A state that fast-tracks citizenship through government-sponsored religious conversion to Judaism, as Israel’s government now does, cannot for long hide that it privileges its Jewish citizens—just as the United States could not have claimed to be a democracy if conversion to Christianity were a path to U.S. citizenship. New legislation endorsed by Netanyahu and the ruling Likud that explicitly allows democratic principles to be overridden by Israel’s legislature if they clash with certain Jewish religious principles demonstrates that the notion of a Jewish and democratic state may have been an oxymoron from the outset.
Henry Siegman is President Emeritus of the U.S./Middle East Project and a past senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. He formerly headed the American Jewish Congress and the Synagogue Council of America.