New Options for Middle East Peace: A Plan to Extend Israel’s Democracy to the West Bank

American-Israel Strategic Planning Group

[Originally Published in the Washington Times under title: ‘Preserving Israel‘]

By Bennett Zimmerman and Michael L. Wise with Roberta Seid

The separation of Gaza and the West Bank provides the greatest opportunity since 1967 to resolve the status of the West Bank and Jerusalem . Policy-makers have been wedded to the vision of a two state concept and have not entertained alternative solutions.

Without a solution, Oslo adopted a two-state framework that left unresolved borders, limited defense rights and a “chutes and ladders” division of Jerusalem that has left chaos on the ground where Jewish and Arab populations live intertwined with the other.

West Bank Arabs have been voting with their feet for Israel , as they flee life under the PA. Israeli ID cards have become the most sought after commodity in the West Bank today, especially in the Jerusalem area.

The ability to attract the constituency of a rival is a political victory of the highest order. With Israel able to bypass external players, negotiation occurs at the individual, family or local level.

How Israel handles its political attractiveness will determine if it can use the opportunity to resolve the conflict.

“The Fourth Way: A New Demographic, Electoral and Political Paradigm for Israel’s Extension of Democracy to the West Bank”
This Fourth Way provides the first integrated demographic and electoral analysis of the combined areas.

In Israel and the West Bank, 67 percent of the population is Jewish, 14 percent are Israeli Arab citizens fully enfranchised within pre-1967 Israel and 3 percent are permanent Jerusalem residents with rights to apply for Israeli citizenship. West Bank Arabs, who are currently outside of Israel ‘s political system, make up only 16 percent of the combined populations.

In addition, Israel has been considering reform of its electoral system. Its current proportional-representation electoral system resembles that of Italy, and encourages small parties, giving them a disproportionate “spoiler” role. If a new districting system is adopted, many options open up for Israel to resolve the conflict unilaterally.

The American-Israel Strategic Planning Group proposes 21 Districts that maintain natural groupings of people: Pre-1967 Israel and Jerusalem include 17 electoral districts: 15 with Jewish majorities and two with small Arab majorities. The West Bank includes 4 electoral districts: two mixed-Arab-majority regions and two with 100 percent Arab majorities.

For the first time since 1967, Israel can extend its democracy to the West Bank without compromising either Israel ‘s Jewish majority or its democratic principles. Here are several models explored:

AISPG “United Kingdom” Regional Government Model: As in Britain, Israel and the West Bank districts would govern all local and regional affairs while the national government manages immigration, security and national defense, and foreign affairs. Just as Scotland has turned over key functions to the government of the United Kingdom , so has England . The model allows equality and dignity while providing de facto control on key issues to the Jewish majority.

AISPG ” Israel Extension Plan”: Israel and the West Bank merge with a national government in Jerusalem. Governmental reform mechanisms including referendum, a Senate, or new Upper House Chamber, would be added to support consensus rule. West Bank areas would be folded into Israel ‘s most densely populated Districts to be used for key elections, including a possible presidential system.

Civil rights and individual liberties would be guaranteed in all scenarios. Both approaches include partial and full absorption schedules.

AIDRG “Realistic Border Initiative” (RBI): Highly strategic zones in the Jordan Valley and around Jerusalem and other areas of the West Bank have been slated for priority absorption into Israel . There are 400,000 Arab residents living in the areas Israel most wishes to retain. Stability would be added to Israel ‘s electoral system as these zones gain Jewish residents and as Arab residents mix with predominately Jewish Districts.

However, the most heavily populated Arab zones are straddled by the zones Israel wishes to retain. In order to separate populations living intertwined with the other, Israel has had to construct a demographic barrier and a series of checkpoints bringing charges of occupation. And a security threat which had been held at the border has now shifted to a locally based terror threat only moments from Israel ‘s population centers.

The success of partial absorption plans depend on implementation of credible local governance for Arab majority districts outside initially absorbed districts. Israel can provide a framework to facilitate later separation, merger with Israel or continued self-governing status.

Israel ‘s 2 to 1 Jewish majority is secure based on a wide range of fertility scenarios with Israel ‘s control of borders into the combined areas. In the past two years, Israeli Arab and Jewish fertility rates have rapidly converged while West Bank fertility is vulnerable to modernization and integration with Israel . By offering a political solution for all inhabitants in the area, Israel might be on the verge of locking in an overwhelming Jewish majority within borders the country believes necessary for its defense.

Democracy offers the best solutions for an ethnically mixed region. Israel ‘s demographic advantage, if used wisely, will allow the country to lead the region to a permanent peace. This strength should be realized before implementing panacea solutions involving Jordan or other parties that create long-term political instability.

The American-Israel Strategic Planning Group (AISPG) is led by Bennett Zimmerman, Michael L. Wise, and Roberta Seid. The authors have written ‘Arab Population in the West Bank and Gaza: The Million Person Gap’, ‘Forecast for Israel and West Bank 2025’, ‘Realities on the Ground: Jerusalem 2007-2025’. Their findings have been presented before the US Congress at the House International Relations Committee, the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

August 3, 2007 | 4 Comments »

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