Reflection and talk of Israel’s democratic future
The state of Israel grew in both land mass and spirit during the Six-Day War in June 1967, but an ethical dilemma has stuck with the country over how to handle the Palestinian question. In 1967, at the end of the war, Israel immediately annexed east Jerusalem. The West Bank and Gaza Strip became “administered territories”, a temporary solution that is still in place 50 years later.
After years of militarization, aggressive anti-Israel propaganda and threats to Israel from its Arab neighbors, Israel fired the first shots of the Six-Day War on June 6, 1967 citing self-defense. Fighting included Egypt, Jordan, Syria and to a lesser extent, Iraq and Lebanon. The war officially ended on June 11, Israel coming out victorious. Israel’s victory ended Jordanian control of the Old City of Jerusalem, and Jewish access to the Western Wall, the holiest site in Judaism.
The takeover of the West Bank and Jerusalem’s old city from Jordan, and Gaza from Egypt, challenged the Israeli status quo of a Jewish, democratic state in 1967 and continues to do so today. Former ambassador to Israel from the United States, Daniel Shapiro, told The Media Line the Judaism and democracy are “central to Israel’s identity,” and under the current status quo, there is tension between them.
Israel withdrew its military presence from Gaza in 2005 but has enforced a blockade on the area preventing trade and cutting the territory and it’s almost two million people off from some imports. Gaza is controlled by the Islamist group, Hamas, which have pledged to destroy the state of Israel.
The West Bank has a population of 2. 7 million Palestinians and 385,900 Israeli settlers according to a US Central Intelligence Agency report. Palestinian citizens of the West Bank are subject to enforced Israeli security restrictions, needing permits to enter Israel.
Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza do not have the legal right to vote in Israeli elections, cannot move freely around the state of Israel and do not have Israeli citizenship despite living in an administrative territory of Israel.
“Once you are in control of the lives of millions of people without equal rights, then you are not serious about democracy,” Professor Yedidia Stern, Vice President and researcher at the Israel Democracy Institute told The Media Line.
Israeli officials say that despite several serious Israeli offers to withdraw from most of the West Bank, Palestinians have not been willing to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, and drop all future claims.
The Israeli and Palestinian leadership have come close to peace on few occasions, with both parties refusing to compromise on several key issues, causing a stalemate. The original Israeli War of Independence in 1947 resulted in over 700,000 Palestinian refugees. Palestinians say any peace deal would have to include “right to return” or the right of the 700,000 displaced Palestinians and their descendants to return to their homes, a proposal Israel has fiercely opposed. There have been reports that Israel is willing to allow a symbolic number to return.
Anat Kurz, the director of research at the Institute for National Security Studies said Israel cannot maintain its status as a democracy if it continues its occupation of the West Bank and blockade of Gaza. “It’s an apartheid state inevitably,” Kurz said, “The world will not let it keep going.”
Stern said Israel wants to make a peace deal, but does not have a reliable Palestinian peer to work with. “We do not have a partner we can trust,” Stern told The Media Line, stating that he does not believe peace is not a part of Palestinian Authority’s national interest, and cited Palestinian leaders who support terrorism against Israel.
Shapiro and Stern believe coming to a consensus on borders and strong, peace-minded leadership from both the Israelis and Palestinians will create the safest and most successful two-state solution. Stern told The Media Line this is the best option to “maintain our integrity as a Jewish democratic state.”
Madison Dudley is a student journalist at The Media Line