Israel rose to the heights of world power in an era of conflict, but today seems to be settling into a misleading lifestyle of comfort and false dominance. Today it seems to be enjoying more Arab acceptance and unprecedented levels of Western support, and tightening its grip not just on the lands of 1948 Israel but on those it occupied in 1967.
Maybe it is enjoying itself too much, as it is creating an ominous future for itself through its arrogant refusal to reach a genuine peace with the Palestinians. Israel’s inability to accept peace based on two states, and its policy of confiscating Christian and Muslim lands, will be its ultimate undoing. The key to its downfall is the illegal and racist settlement movement.
Once touted as a security strategy to preserve Israel’s survival, settlements are an impending security threat that will lead to worse violence than either side has ever experienced. Their expansion is nurturing extremism in Israel, among settlers and among Palestinians.
Under the facade of Israel’s harmony is a brewing crisis. Its religious fanatics, the backbone of the settler movement, not only threaten non-Jews living in the occupied territories but also secular Israeli Jews. Pressures between religious and secular Israelis frame the problem their country faces. The problem is slowly boiling, so many do not pay attention to it because it is overshadowed by larger problems with Palestinians and the occupation.
Inflating the bubble more are unstable demographics and the fast-growing non-Jewish population. Eventually, Jewish immigration to Israel will peak. As violence continues, many Jews, mostly secular ones, will leave and the Palestinian population will grow even faster.
Israel was tolerable for Jews during its first 20 years because it managed the non-Jewish population through a series of racist laws, oppressive policies and an erosion of civil rights. It stifled Israel’s Arab population growth, although Arab Israelis increasingly see the power of the vote as an equalizer in an unequal society.
The population imbalance was tolerable. Arab population growth in Israel was stunted compared to the Jewish population. Yet 25 percent of the population is not Jewish, meaning the pressures on Israeli Jews to maintain control will only increase.
Average Israelis do not see it coming because they live detached from most of their non-Jewish citizens, and even further from the settler and Palestinian populations in the occupied territories. Nearly 70 years of oppression have taught Palestinians how to survive and adapt far better than Israelis.
Gaza’s fast-growing Arab population of nearly 2 million remains under military check, but anger is festering against Israel’s harsh oppression. You can blame the ongoing problems in Gaza on the endless rivalry between Hamas and Fatah, but Israel controls the territory’s destiny, at least for now, via its military stranglehold and brutal embargo.
As settlement growth continues and security worsens, the costs to Israel will increase significantly, impacting its economy. Israel will need to spend more and more money to maintain the occupation. Eventually, subjugating a faster-growing, non-Jewish population will become intolerable and extend beyond economics.
A more ominous threat to Israel is the dynamics of having two populations living together in the occupied West Bank. The flashpoints will become more intense as the Palestinian and settler populations grow. The violence today seems tolerable, but it will only take one ghastly act to push both sides over the edge into a downward spiral.
Average Israelis do not see it coming because they live detached from most of their non-Jewish citizens, and even further from the settler and Palestinian populations in the occupied territories. As Israel expands its settlements, imposing harsher policies on non-Jews, there will be a dilution of separation between settlers and Palestinians.
There will be a form of conflict assimilation where two communities exist in the same space and time, but struggle to live separately. That struggle, in a tighter and tighter space, will become more violent, emotional and uncontrollable. Israel would lose control because Jewish settlers are more violent, more extremist and incapable of restraint.
Israel will have to increase its oppression even more. What is now apartheid-like will become real apartheid. Crackdowns on non-Jews will become pogroms. The Palestinian population in Israel’s prison gulag system will swell. This environment will bring Israel to the brink of disaster even faster.
It is hard to predict what single event might spark this explosion. But the current situation cannot last forever, especially as extremists such as Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Naftali Bennett and “Justice” Minister Ayelet Shaked gain more and more influence.
Israelis are headed down an ugly road that is not very hopeful. This violent instability will be punishing for Palestinians too, but nearly 70 years of oppression have taught Palestinians how to survive and adapt far better than Israelis.
• Ray Hanania is an award-winning Palestinian-American former journalist and political columnist. Email him at [email protected]