Wednesday, December 28, 2016

1.7 Billion vs. 16 Million

As culture wars seem to escalate, as we toss around the notion of a clash of civilizations or religious wars as a part of modernity, the sheer numbers of people who embrace one religious/cultural code over another become incredibly important. As the pie chart below suggests, Christianity is the world’s dominant faith, but given current demographic trends, Islam will overtake as the largest religious group on earth by 2050.
But what really stands out, what the two charts above illustrate, are the number of Jews on earth – approximately 16 million (up to 20 million if you include culturally “non-practicing Jews”), of which 6.5 million live in Israel – vs the nearly 1.7 billion followers of Islam. Another interesting reality: “Recent Jewish population dynamics are characterized by continued steady increase in the Israeli Jewish population and flat or declining numbers in countries of the diaspora.” Wikipedia.
The United States has one of the largest non-Israeli Jewish populations (just north of 7 million), but that number still only represents around 2% of our total. But Jews are migrating to Israel in droves, creating an increasing concentration of Jews in one tiny area of the planet. An increasingly easy and focused target. While Israel is a nuclear power – something Tel Aviv does not officially acknowledge – one simply has to look at the two maps above to see how completely surrounded and overwhelmed Israel is vis-√†-vis her rather hostile Arab neighborhood. One simply has to ask the question, regardless of Israel’s current nuclear power, as to how Israel can hope to remain a viable and integral nation while continuing to alienate an obviously vastly larger Islamic world (with the support of most countries on earth as UN General Assembly votes reflect).
Can we stop nuclear proliferation from reaching into the Islamic world, even as Muslim-dominated Pakistan – home of the “Islamic nuclear bomb” – has already spread its technical knowhow to North Korea and, to a lesser extent, Iran? How many nuclear warheads still remain unaccounted for from the dissolution of the Soviet empire in 1991? Which Arab country will first buy the technology or even a few warheads? How long can Israel hold on as a more fertile local West Bank Palestinian Muslim population within its borders slowly grows and eventually surpasses the number Jewish residents?
Despite successes in many regional wars – in particular in 1967 and 1973 – how long can Israel hope to resist a global Muslim tsunami of population growth and maintain control of West Bank territories, probably including a permanent annexation of Jerusalem (holy to Christians, Muslims and Jews alike), reinforced by an expected, Trump-declared, move of the U.S. embassy there from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Benjamin Netanyahu – with a great deal of encouragement from American Republican Party (even stronger with Donald Trump’s adviser and son-in-law and Orthodox Jew, Jared Kushner) – has doubled down on expanding the very controversial Jewish settlements on the West Bank. Most nations on earth believe such expanding settlements make impossible the “two-state" solution (Palestine as a separate country from Israel) embraced by the United Nations. This two-state solution is a political commitment to which the United States has officially been firmly committed since early 1993 (beginning with the Oslo Accords in that year).
But today, many in Europe, the American right and especially under the hardline leadership in Israel no longer believe in that “big picture” two-state solution. They see smaller steps, even as Palestinians and their regional allies reaffirm their commitment to that larger proposal, as the only viable alternatives. There are still many in the Middle East equally committed to the complete destruction of the Jewish state. Israel points to their rather complete release of Gaza to Palestinian rule – which rapidly became a base from which rockets were deployed against Israel – as a reason for their overall reluctance to implement anything near what the Arab (even relatively moderate states) world wants to have happen regarding that two-state solution.
With all of the above variables impacting the regional peace process, it is rather apparent that Israel’s continued expansion of West Bank Jewish settlements is rapidly becoming a barrier to any peace accord with Palestinian Arabs. Israel has moved away from relying on intermediary states to help bridge the divide, as the PM’s office continues to affirm: ““Israel knows peace will be achieved by direct negotiations. It seems the Palestinians know that as well, and that is why they do not want direct negotiations.” But Palestinians repeat that Israel is expanding its holdings in a way that literally prevents their desired goal of a two-state solution, and hence is proposing those direct negotiations in bad faith.
While the U.N. General Assembly has repeatedly and overwhelmingly supported a fully-independent Palestine – the Palestinian flag now flies about UN headquarters in New York – the all-powerful Security Council has repeatedly faced a U.S. veto on attempts to chastise or curtail Israel in its West Bank activities. However, to the outrage of Republicans in Congress and in particular to Donald Trump (who even will nominate a pro-Jewish settlement American ambassador to Israel), as a gesture of utter frustration with Israel from a fading Democratic presidency, the United States just failed to exercise that veto (by abstaining) in a Security Council vote chastising Israel’s most recent approval of additional West Bank Settlements:
The 14-to-0 vote by the United Nations Security Council condemning Israeli settlements, permitted on Friday [12/23] by President Obama, who ordered an American abstention, served as a reminder that the Palestinian issue remains a powder keg. Instead of counting new friends, Mr. Netanyahu was left to tally up old enemies, and in a speech on Saturday night [12/24] he lashed out, vowing to exact a ‘diplomatic and economic price’ from countries that in his view try to hurt Israel.
“He announced that he was cutting off $8 million in contributions to the United Nations and reviewing whether to continue allowing its personnel to enter Israel, in addition to recalling ambassadors and canceling visits from some countries that supported the measure. He accused the departing Obama administration of carrying out a ‘disgraceful anti-Israel maneuver.’” New York Times, December 24th. Netanyahu is even considering withdrawing Israel from the United Nations itself.
The Israeli Prime Minister, sensing nothing left to lose as a very pro-Israel Donald Trump is about to reverse anything P.M. Netanyahu (also his own Foreign Minister) might find distasteful in US policy, took his parting shot at the outgoing Obama administration. “Israel's prime minister has summoned the US ambassador amid a growing row after the US eased the passage of a resolution against Israel at the UN [to explain the US abstention].
“Israel has accused the US, its closest ally but a frequent critic of settlements, of engineering the vote - a charge Washington has denied… ‘From the information that we have, we have no doubt that the Obama administration initiated it, stood behind it, co-ordinated on the wording and demanded that it be passed,’ Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said… ‘Friends don't take friends to the Security Council,’ he said.” BBC.com, December 25th. Feeling that Trump will support whatever Israel may choose to do without question, the Israeli P.M. was clearly feeling his oats and ready to stick it to those in the United States who believed that the Jewish state had crossed the line. The outgoing administration had another interpretation: “A US state department spokesman said the accusation [that the US coordinated the UN vote] was ‘just not true,’ but he hoped the resolution would ‘serve as a wake-up call’ for Israel.” BBC.com, December 28th.
Israeli hardliners – some of whom are in Netanyahu’s ruling coalition – want to end the peace process and simply declare the West Bank and particularly Jerusalem as immutably Israeli territory. They want to make sure that the Palestinians living there remain second class citizens, unable to wield political influence against Israeli directives. And while there have been no such declarations from the Israeli government, many believe that the expansion of West Bank settlements has already made that policy de facto official.
“Since the American election, pro-settlement leaders in Mr. Netanyahu’s cabinet have pushed for legislation retroactively legalizing outposts on privately owned Palestinian land that had been declared illegal by Israel’s Supreme Court. Mr. Netanyahu has been reluctant, even warning colleagues that it could lead to an investigation by the International Criminal Court, according to the newspaper Haaretz.                
“‘Israeli leaders have used American pressure as an excuse to avoid doing something they really don’t want to do but are being pressured to do by coalition members,’ said Daniel C. Kurtzer, a former American ambassador to Israel teaching at Princeton University. If Mr. Trump advances views to the right of Mr. Netanyahu, ‘this will put the prime minister in an awkward position with no excuses for not doing what right-wingers want him to do,’ Mr. Kurtzer said.” NY Times. Our blindly supporting Israel in whatever it may choose to do, therefore, just might not be what is best for Israel. Netanyahu may just have ceded the ultimate choice to the most extreme faction of his coalition. What could go wrong? Go wrong? Go wrong?
With Donald Trump waiting in the wings to undo Obama’s policies, it does indeed seem as if the hardliners are clearly determining Israel’s going-forward settlement plans: “Undeterred by a resounding defeat at the United Nations, Israel’s government said Monday [12/26] that it would move ahead with thousands of new homes in East Jerusalem and warned nations against further action, declaring that Israel does not ‘turn the other cheek.’
“Just a few days after the United Nations Security Council voted to condemn Israeli settlements, Jerusalem’s municipal government signaled that it would not back down: The city [was set to approve 500] housing units in the predominantly Palestinian eastern section of town on Wednesday [12/28] in what a top official called a first installment on 5,600 new homes [but that vote was temporarily delayed pending a policy speech by Secretary of State John Kerry].” New York Times, December 26th. See any anger brewing from the 1.7 billion people on the other side?
Which brings me back to the above numbers. No matter how powerful Israel may be, regardless past military victories and maintaining a nuclear arsenal with one of the most effective militaries on earth, I keep looking at that 1.7 billion Muslims to 16 million Jews and wonder when – not if – that statistic ultimately crushes Israel’s existence, perhaps dragging the United States into a full-fledged nuclear war. Digging in its heels (with encouragement from the incoming American administration), moving rather strongly and against the global tide favoring that two-state solution, Israel appears to invite an equal and opposite reaction from the Arab world that augurs really badly for Israel’s long-term ability to survive and thrive. We cannot tolerate another Jewish holocaust! There simply has to be a better way.
I’m Peter Dekom, and cooler heads must prevail to defuse a volatile situation in Israel to keep Jewish lives as precious as they truly are (“Never Again!”).

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