Israel is the only state in the world that has a population of 200%. And that’s a fact.
Public opinion polls show that it has two simultaneous majorities. One is peace-loving, the other supports extreme nationalism.
At the present time, it looks like this: In every public opinion poll there is a large majority that supports the Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon. Sharon wants, of course, to enlarge the settlements, intensify the war against the Palestinians, eliminate Yasser Arafat, postpone a permanent solution and refuse any peace negotiations until unattainable conditions are met. Anyone who supports him must be a radical right-winger.
But the very same public opinion polls show also that a majority agrees to withdraw from (almost) all the occupied territories, dismantle (almost) all settlements and accept the establishment of a Palestinian state in return for peace.
How is this possible? Can a state have a population of more than 100%? If so, Israel is a very special country.
This curious situation did not come about yesterday. It started long ago.
I remember public opinion polls of more than 20 tears ago, which also revealed two majorities. The first majority supported the idea of expelling all Arabs from the country west of the Jordan river. The second one supported a withdrawal from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Together with those who were against both proposals, this totaled 200%.
Statisticians and sociologists examined, researched, shook their collective heads, shrugged their shoulders, raised both hands and thought: a crazy people. Doesn’t know what it wants. Mixed up. Schizophrenic. Suffering from a split personality.
But the people were not mad at all. The professors just did not know how to read the results of their polls.
What the public tried to say was: If it were possible to drive out all the Arabs, that would be wonderful. If it’s impossible, let’s get the hell out of there.
Why? For a simple reason: the one thing that unifies almost all Jewish Israelis is the wish to live in a state where there are only Jews. If we could achieve such a state in all the country between the Mediterranean and the Jordan river, O.K. If not, let’s leave the occupied territories. Not “land for peace”, but “withdrawal for the sake of safeguarding a homogeneous Jewish state”. This is the majority opinion, and there is, indeed, only one majority.
Some call this “racist”. Some call it “nationalist”. Some say that this is “apartheid”. But this attitude is rooted in the fact that for thousands of years Jews have lived as a religious-ethnic community dispersed throughout the world and often suffered cruel persecution (especially in the Christian world). They have developed a ghetto mentality. They want to live among themselves, separate from others, surrounded by a high fence.
Zionism wanted to achieve this by establishing a state where the Jews would live together, without Goyim (Gentiles). Even the presence of a considerable minority (the Arab citizens) in Israel creates severe mental stress. For most Israelis, the ideal situation would be a state without a single non-Jewish citizen. (The presence of foreign workers does not bother anybody; it is temporary, and they are devoid of any rights.)
Lately this aspiration has found new expression in an idea which is becoming quite popular: to transfer the Israeli Arab villages adjoining the West Bank, together with their inhabitants, to the future Palestinian state, which means giving up territory so that Israel will have less non-Jewish citizens.
This is quite unusual. The French, for example, have shed rivers of blood in order to keep Alsace, whose people are of German descent. India is ready to wage a nuclear war in order to keep Kashmir, which is populated by Muslims. For other nations, territory is more important than a homogeneous population, geography precedes demography. Israelis, too, like territory – but demography is by far more important to them.
One example: after the 1956 war, during which Israel conquered the Sinai and the Gaza Strip, David Ben-Gurion was compelled to give up the Sinai. At the time there was a clamor from the right and the left to annex the Gaza Strip. Ben-Gurion adamantly refused, because he did not want to increase the number of Arab citizens by hundreds of thousands at any price. (The brilliant idea of an eternal military occupation, which allows the occupier to abstain from conferring citizenship on the occupied population, was not yet invented.)
Today, too, there is only one majority in Israel. Most Israelis are ready to pay the price demanded for peace. So why do they support Sharon, who represents the opposite? For one simple reason: they have been brought to believe that “we have no partner”. There is a complete unanimity, from Avigdor Liberman and Effy Eitam on the right to Haim Ramon and Yossi Sarid on the “left”, that “there is no partner”. And since there is no partner for peace, let’s support Sharon, who knows (or so it seems) how to wage war. The aim of this brainwashing is precisely to make it possible to keep the occupied territories and, God willing, to drive the Palestinians out.
The real criminal in this story is Ehud Barak. In order to hide his monumental failure as a peace-maker, he created the legend that “we offered them everything and they rejected everything.” This historic lie is the connecting link between the two seemingly contradictory results of the polls: the majority is ready to pay the price of peace but does not believe that peace is possible. So let’s support Sharon.
There is no riddle here. Israel is not a mad cow. It is, at most, a maddened cow.
[The author has closely followed the career of Sharon for four decades. Over the years, he has written three extensive biographical essays about him, two (1973, 1981) with his cooperation.]