Benvenisti: Real Issue of the West Bank is Whether Israelis Want a Jewish State or a Democratic One
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Benvenisti: Real Issue of the West Bank is Whether Israelis Want a Jewish State or a Democratic One

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With more than a million West Bank Arabs under Israel’s control, Israelis will have to decide whether they want a Jewish state or a democratic one, Meron Benvenisti, former Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem, declared yesterday.

He explained that if Israel maintains control of the land it will have to decide whether to extend full democratic rights to the West Bank Palestinians. Benvenisti said that none of Israel’s political parties and neither hawks nor doves have faced this question which he said is the real issue now before Israel because he “seriously doubts” Israel’s control of the West Bank can be reversed. (See separate story on State Department reaction.)

His remarks were made at a press conference at the American Enterprise institute (AEI) at which he presented his study, “The West Bank Data Project: A Survey of Israel’s Policies,” published by the AEI yesterday.


Benvenisti said that Israel does not have to annex the West Bank or even to extend Israeli law to it as it did on the Golan Heights as it is accomplishing the same goal through “incremental and small steps.” He explained that during Israel’s nearly 17 years of occupation it has frozen the land available to Palestinians for growth and development to the 1968 level, with the Palestinians maintaining 3 1/2 million dunams of the 5 1/2 million dunams in the West Bank.

Individual Palestinians have prospered under this system but Israel has not allowed the West Bank to develop as a community, Benvenisti said. He noted this was the same policy practiced by Jordan during its occupation of the West Bank. Benvenisti said Israel has enough land in the West Bank to eventually settle the one million Jews the Likud government envisions for that area. This is because most of the new settlers are suburbanites and not farmers.

The first two waves of settlements were in the Jordan Valley under the Labor government, and the Gush Emunim settlements under Likud, Benvenisti said. He said that there are not enough people with the ideological motivation to increase those two types of settlements. He said the government is now concentrating on suburban settlements that will be less than 30 minutes drive from either Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, and expects thus to reach its goal of 100,000 settlers on the West Bank by the end of the decade.

Benvenisti said the government’s aim is to create a constituency of West Bank settlers that would be large enough to prevent any future government from withdrawing from the area.

Benvenisti said the problem is no longer military occupation but what to do with the people in the area. He said all the parties involved, including the United States, prefer to maintain the “fiction” that it is military occupation since that is easier to deal with rather than face “reality.” He said he did not care whether settlements were legal or illegal. What mattered was the reality of the situation, he added.

Benvenisti said he doubted the U.S. could be helpful in finding a solution because he charged it was incapable of the political involvement necessary. “We should not look for any external power to do the work, “he added. “We have to do the work ourselves.”


He also maintained that it is the Arab countries and the Palestine Liberation Organization more than Israel that have “emasculated” the Palestinians on the West Bank by refusing to allow them to select their own leaders and labeling any attempt on the part of the West Bank population to deal with Israel as treason. He said the Israeli Arabs and the West Bank Arabs must be allowed to develop their own leaders.

When challenged about including the Israeli Arabs with the West Bankers, he said if the “green line” between Israel and the West Bank is erased for the Jews, than it also has to be erased for the Arabs.

Benvenisti rejected any charge that the Israeli policy on the West Bank resembles the apartheid practiced by South Africa. He said South Africa established apartheid because the whites there see the Blacks as a threat while the Israelis see the Arabs under their control only as a “nuisance.”

He said while the Arabs may be unequal in Israel there never will be an apartheid system. Nor would Israel ever consider expulsion of the Arabs from Israel, or the occupied territories, Benvenisti added.

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