Separate But Inseparable

By , Alon Ben-Meir is a New York-based political analyst.

AS the Israeli and Palestinian representatives meet this month for another round of negotiations, they should take a much harder look at their people's inter-disbursement on the ground and examine how future demographic developments might affect their relations. This analysis will clearly indicate that only coexistence under separate political authority offers hope for a solution. Here is why:

First, more than 80 percent of the Palestinians in the area live within a 100-mile radius: nearly 1.6 million in Jordan, 900,000 in the West Bank, 700,000 in Gaza, 850,000 in Israel proper, and 350,000-400,000 in Lebanon. The remaining 18-20 percent are scattered in other Arab countries and around the world. Except for transfers of a limited number for family and other humanitarian reasons, most Palestinians will want to stay in their current places of residence for economic and political reasons.

Second, Israel was created as a Jewish state in answer to the Jews' millennium-long yearning to return to their ancestral land and reestablish their own commonwealth. Maintaining the Jewish national identity of the state safeguards the future of the country as the haven for Jews who opt to live in their homeland. For Israel to remain a Jewish state and a democracy requires a sustainable Jewish majority. Therefore, immigration of Jews to Israel will continue to top the Israeli national agenda. Most Israel i demographers agree that the Jewish population in Israel may go well over 5 million by 2000, especially if the flow of Soviet Jews resumes the 1990 level of 200,000 a year.

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Third, the same demographers agree, however, that even if the Jewish population climbs to 5 million, an outright or creeping annexation of the West Bank and Gaza will obliterate the Jewish identity of Israel. For this reason alone, annexation now or at any time in the future must be ruled out. In addition, annexation would be severely condemned and probably resisted by the international community. At best, there would be tremendous pressure on Israel to offer the Palestinians equal political rights. By v irtue of the Palestinian birth rate alone, they could move toward a majority by 2030.

Fourth, in an effort to secure a Jewish majority and preserve the national identity of the state, some Israelis from the extreme right have advocated the "transfer" (a euphemism for expulsion) of Palestinians from the occupied territories. The expulsion of even a few Palestinians has met with severe international condemnation, providing a clear indication of how unacceptable such a course would be. It will also foreclose any possibility of making peace with the Arab states. In any case, the whole idea ru ns against the moral grain of the overwhelming majority of Israelis.

Fifth, maintaining the current situation, with more than 1.6 million Palestinians living under military occupation, is no longer tolerable to either side.

Sustaining Israeli rule and a Jewish majority at the expense of the Palestinians' freedom raises a grave moral dilemma for a growing number of Israelis. This was not the Zionist dream; the creation of Israel was not intended to subjugate other peoples. Over 60 percent of Palestinians in the territories, born a few years before 1967 or in the years since, know nothing but occupation and deprivation. They are committed to throwing off the Israeli yoke, as the five-year-old intifadah has shown.

The inter-disbursement of Israelis and Palestinians - in Israel proper and in the West Bank and Gaza (there are nearly 150,000 Israelis in the West Bank and about 20,000 in Gaza) - makes Israeli-Palestinian coexistence a fundamental tenet of any peace agreement. The transferring of any significant number of either Jews or Palestinians from their present places of residence will be violently resisted. Coexistence is not only dictated by existing demographic conditions, but has also become, after 25 years,

a way of life enforced daily by socioeconomic interrelations and by security considerations. Each side has come to depend on the other's resources, both human and material.

The maintenance of separate national identities through complete autonomous rule for the Palestinians, and coexistence with full cooperation and friendship, are not mutually exclusive. In fact, only a combination of the two will supply both the ideological basis and the pragmatic means to settle the territorial dispute which lies at the heart of the Middle East's conflict.

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