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 Conceptual Drawbacks of Olmert’s Convergence Plan: Democracy and Demographics

Mr. Olmert has pledged that by the end of 2007 he will oversee the completion of Israel’s security barrier and the expulsion of between 50,000-100,000 Israeli civilians from their homes and the destruction of some 50-100 Israeli communities in the West Bank. He argues that the implementation of his plan will secure Israel’s future as a democratic Jewish state for years to come. In arguing the merits of his plan, Olmert devotes the majority of his attention to asserting that it will mitigate the demographic dangers to Israel’s identity as a Jewish state and safeguard Israel’s position in the international community. Due to the emphasis that Olmert places on both issues, they deserve specific investigation.

Olmert claims that today there are some 3.8 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. According to these figures, together with the 1.3 million Arab citizens of Israel, the Arab population west of theJordan Riverwould be 5.1 million — almost equal to the Jewish population of 5.4 million in the same area. Olmert’s demographic projections, which are widely accepted in Israel, claim that by 2015, Arabs will comprise the majority of the overall population west of the Jordan River.

Olmert and his associates assert that these population projections render an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank a political necessity. The longer there is a commingling of Jewish and Arab populations in the West Bank, they argue, the more grave the danger to Israel’s identity as a democratic Jewish state.

Yet, the democratic/demographic arguments unravel upon closer examination. First of all, even if the demographic projections were correct — and as we shall see, they are not — the growing Palestinian Arab population would merely render it impossible for Israel to remain a Jewish state while fully incorporating the West Bank and Gaza into the democratic Israeli polity. Yet nothing prevents Israel from sharing rule in the West Bank and Gaza with a self-governing Palestinian Arab authority or any other party. Thus, the size of the Palestinian population in either the Gaza Strip or the West Bank should be of no concern to those who wish to safeguard Israel’s Jewish majority so long as they do not wish to declare Israel the sole sovereign in the region and incorporate all Palestinian residents in the areas as citizens of Israel.

To be sure, military governance is by its nature not fully democratic, and absent a near-term ability to resolve the ultimate status of the disputed West Bank, Israel can enhance its own democratic institutions by transitioning institutions in the West Bankto more democratic rule. And, indeed, since the establishment of the Palestinian Authority in 1994, Israel has sharply restricted military authority in the West Bank and yielded nearly all civilian responsibility and control over the Palestinians to an elected Palestinian Authority.

Palestinian lack of free press, free exercise of religion, economic freedom, rights to fair trials, impartial justice and police, and the like stems not from Israel, but from the anti-democratic character of the parties ruling the Palestinian Authority (previously Fatah, and now Hamas).[24] This fact suggests that the enhancement of democracy in the West Bank will not be facilitated though the further empowerment of the Palestinian Authority, but rather by developing different Palestinian partners for Palestinian self-rule or shared rule with Israel.[25]

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