Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. President Donald Trump. by the Forward

Trump’s ‘peace plan’ forces Americans to choose: a Jewish state or a democratic one?

This week, President Trump invited Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and his chief political rival, Kachol Lavan leader Benny Gantz, to come to the White House next week for the release of his administration’s long-awaited Israel-Palestine plan. This “peace plan” (and I use the term loosely) promises to accelerate a long-delayed reckoning with what it means to be “pro-Israel” in 2020, laying bare irresolvable tensions between the world’s two largest Jewish communities.

Opinion | Trump’s ‘peace plan’ forces Americans to choose: a Jewish state or a democratic one?

While Trump insists the final details of the plan are yet to be released, preliminary reports indicate it provides everything the Israeli right has dreamed of for years: The plan grants Israel the right to annex the Jordan Valley, with full sovereignty in all 100-plus of its West Bank settlements. Palestinians would have to give up any right of return for refugees displaced in the 1948 war and any claim to the city of Jerusalem, in return for a promise of some “state-minus” at some undefined future date, a “state” which would have no control of its borders and would have to give up at least 30 percent of its territory to Israel.

Naturally, a plan that asks the Palestinian people to give up huge amounts of territory in the short-term, in exchange for a long-term promise of some political entity under permanent Israeli control, is dead on arrival with Palestinian leaders. It seems symbolic that this “Israel-Palestine plan” is being released at a meeting with two Israeli Jewish leaders and zero Palestinians. As Palestinian political analyst Nour Odeh argued, Trump’s plan asks “the Palestinians to join Likud… that’s basically the requirement.”

The plan even seems to be anticipating its own failure. According to preliminary reports, if Israel accepts the plan and the Palestinians reject it, Israel has the green light from the United States to begin unilateral annexation of the Jordan Valley and large blocs of West Bank settlements.

Opinion | Trump’s ‘peace plan’ forces Americans to choose: a Jewish state or a democratic one?

A cynical observer might even speculate that the very point is to release a “peace plan” that makes such a mockery of Palestinian aspirations for autonomy and self-governance that the Palestinians cannot help but reject it, providing a pretext for Israeli annexation.

This is the moment American Jews will be forced to make a fateful choice: If you’re forced to choose between a Jewish state or a democratic state, which will you choose?

The numbers are what they are. According to Israeli Army statistics, 6.8 million Arab Palestinians live between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River, including 1.8 million Israeli Arab citizens who can vote in Israeli elections, and five million Palestinians who cannot. This compares to 6.5 million Israeli Jews.

There are more Palestinians living between the Mediterranean and Jordan than Jews. Letting them vote for the government that controls their freedom of movement would mean Jews no longer constitute a majority of voters. Denying them the vote in perpetuity makes a mockery of the idea of Israel as a democracy, making it a system closer to the ethnocracy in the US Jim Crow South.

American Jewish organizations have tried to delay this reckoning for decades by insisting they support a negotiated two-state solution. But if Israel annexes the West Bank, even countries like Jordan with which Israel enjoys comparatively strong diplomatic relations say they believe the two-state solution is dead.

And both of the candidates for Israeli Prime Minister in the upcoming elections are on record supporting annexation. The Israeli right and center both support Jim Crow on the Jordan.

Now that the collision course between Israel’s democracy and its Jewish majority seems inevitable, it is likely Israeli and American Jews will prioritize different sides of this equation. Israeli Jews are increasingly comfortable prioritizing a Jewish majority over a democracy. A recent poll finds support for a two-state solution down to only 34% of Israelis, compared to 42% who support West Bank annexation and only 28% who oppose it.

American Jews prioritize democracy and Jewishness differently. While a majority of American Jews want Israel to remain a “Jewish state and a democracy,” if these values do come into conflict, more than twice as many American Jews think Israel should choose democracy over a Jewish voting majority.

We know what will happen when this “peace plan” is released. Trump will invite Netanyahu and Gantz, both supporters of annexation, to the White House. They will endorse the plan. Palestinians, naturally, will reject it. This rejection will be used as a greenlight for annexation.

Opinion | Trump’s ‘peace plan’ forces Americans to choose: a Jewish state or a democratic one?

The question American Jewish organizations will have to face at that point will be simple: If the government says the occupied West Bank is now legally indistinguishable from Israel within the Green Line, do you join Palestinians there in demanding equal voting rights? Or is your support for equality and justice as much of a joke as this peace plan is?

Joel Swanson is a Ph.D. student at the University of Chicago, studying modern Jewish intellectual history and the philosophy of religions. Find him on Twitter at @jh_swanson.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Forward.

Trump’s ‘peace plan’ forces Americans to choose: a Jewish state or a democratic one?

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