Michael Oren, new Israeli ambassador to US, outlines 7 threats to Israel's existence





Rarely in modern history have nations faced genuine existential threats. Wars are waged to change regimes, alter borders, acquire resources, and impose ideologies, but almost never to eliminate another state and its people. This was certainly the case during World War II, in which the Allies sought to achieve the unconditional surrender of Germany and Japan and to oust their odious leaders, but never to destroy the German and Japanese states or to annihilate their populations. In the infrequent cases in which modern states were threatened with their survival, the experience proved to be traumatic in the extreme. Military coups, popular uprisings, and civil strife are typical by-products of a state’s encounter with even a single existential threat.

The State of Israel copes not only with one but with at least seven existential threats on a daily basis. These threats are extraordinary not only for their number but also for their diversity. In addition to external military dangers from hostile regimes and organizations, the Jewish State is endangered by domestic opposition, demographic trends, and the erosion of core values. Indeed, it is difficult if not impossible to find an example of another state in the modern epic that has faced such a multiplicity and variety of concurrent existential threats.

The Loss of Jerusalem.

The preservation of Jerusalem as the political and spiritual capital of the Jewish state is vital to Israel’s existence. This fact was well understood by David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, at the time of the state’s creation in 1948. Though Israel was attacked simultaneously on all fronts by six Arab armies, with large sections of the Galilee and the Negev already lost, Ben-Gurion devoted the bulk of Israel’s forces to breaking the siege of Jerusalem. The city, he knew, represented the raison d’être of the Jewish state, and without it Israel would be merely another miniature Mediterranean enclave not worth living in, much less defending.

Ben-Gurion’s axiom proved correct: For more than 60 years, Jerusalem has formed the nucleus of Israel’s national identity and cohesion. But now, for the first time since 1948, Israel is in danger of losing Jerusalem—not to Arab forces but to a combination of negligence and lack of interest.

Jerusalem no longer boasts a Zionist majority. Out of a total population of 800,000, there are 272,000 Arabs and 200,000 Haredim--ultra-Orthodox Jews who do not generally identify with the Zionist state. Recent years have seen the flight of thousands of secular Jews from the city, especially professionals and young couples. This exodus has severely eroded the city’s tax base, making Jerusalem Israel’s poorest city. Add this to the lack of industry and the prevalence of terrorist attacks and it is easy to see why Jerusalem is hardly a magnet for young Israelis. Indeed, virtually half of all Israelis under 18 have never even visited Jerusalem.

If this trend continues, Ben-Gurion’s nightmare will materialize and Israel will be rendered soulless, a country in which a great many Jews may not want to live or for which they may not be willing to give their lives.

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The Arab Demographic Threat.

Estimates of the Arab growth rate, both within Israel and the West Bank and Gaza, vary widely. A maximalist school holds that the Palestinian population on both sides of the 1949 armistice lines is expanding far more rapidly than the Jewish sector and will surpass it in less than a decade. Countering this claim, a minimalist school insists that the Arab birthrate in Israel is declining and that the population of the territories, because of emigration, is also shrinking.

Even if the minimalist interpretation is largely correct, it cannot alter a situation in which Israeli Arabs currently constitute one-fifth of the country’s population—one-quarter of the population under age 19--and in which the West Bank now contains at least 2 million Arabs.

Israel, the Jewish State, is predicated on a decisive and stable Jewish majority of at least 70 percent. Any lower than that and Israel will have to decide between being a Jewish state and a democratic state. If it chooses democracy, then Israel as a Jewish state will cease to exist. If it remains officially Jewish, then the state will face an unprecedented level of international isolation, including sanctions, that might prove fatal.

Ideally, the remedy for this dilemma lies in separate states for Jews and Palestinian Arabs. The basic conditions for such a solution, however, are unrealizable for the foreseeable future. The creation of Palestinian government, even within the parameters of the deal proposed by President Clinton in 2000, would require the removal of at least 100,000 Israelis from their West Bank homes. The evacuation of a mere 8,100 Israelis from Gaza in 2005 required 55,000 IDF troops—the largest Israeli military operation since the 1973 Yom Kippur War—and was profoundly traumatic. And unlike the biblical heartland of Judaea and Samaria, which is now called the West Bank, Gaza has never been universally regarded as part of the historical Land of Israel.

On the Palestinian side there is no single leadership at all, and certainly not one ready to concede the demand for the repatriation of Palestinian refugees to Israel or to forfeit control of even part of the Temple Mount (a necessary precondition for a settlement that does not involve the division of Jerusalem). No Palestinian leader, even the most moderate, has recognized Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state or even the existence of a Jewish people.

In the absence of a realistic two-state paradigm, international pressure will grow to transform Israel into a binational state. This would spell the end of the Zionist project. Confronted with the lawlessness and violence endemic to other one-state situations in the Middle East such as Lebanon and Iraq, multitudes of Israeli Jews will emigrate....


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