AFTER THE founding of Israel, God appeared to David Ben-Gurion and told him: "You have created a state for my chosen people in my holy land. This merits a great reward. Tell me what you wish, and I will grant it."
Ben-Gurion answered: "Almighty God, I wish that every person in Israel shall be wise, honest and a member of the Labor Party."
"Dear me," said God, "That is too much even for the Almighty. But I decree that every Israeli shall be two of the three."
Since then, if a wise Israeli is a member of the Labor party, he is not honest. If an honest Israeli is a member of the Labor party, he is not wise. If he is wise and honest, he is not a member of the Labor Party.
THIS JOKE was popular in the 1950s. After 1967, another much less funny formula took its place.
It goes like this: many Israelis ask God for their state to be Jewish and democratic, and that it will include the entire country between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. That is too much even for the Almighty. So he asks them to choose between a state that is Jewish and democratic but only in part of the country, or a state in all the country that is Jewish but not democratic, or a state in the entire country that is democratic but not Jewish. To which I would add a fourth option: A Jewish and democratic state in the entire country, but only after driving out all the Arabs -- some 5.5 million at this point, and growing quickly.
This is the choice facing us today as it did almost 45 years ago. It has only become more sharply defined.
For any foreseeable future, the fourth alternative can be excluded. The circumstances which led, in 1948, to the expulsion of more than half the Palestinian people from the territory that became Israel were unique, and not likely to return in the coming decades. So we must deal with the present demographic reality.
The current government is determined to prevent any peace that would compel it to give up any part of the occupied territories (22% of pre-1948 Palestine). There is no one around who would compel them to do so.
A state that is either non-democratic or non-Jewish.
As things stand, the first possibility is certain to be realized, or, rather, to realize itself. This needs no conscious decision, since it is the default situation that already exists de facto.
This means, to use the popular catch phrase, an apartheid state: a state in which every instrument of power is in the hands of the Jewish-Israeli majority (some 6.5 million people), with limited rights for the 1.5 million Palestinians with Israeli citizenship. The Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, some four million, are granted no rights whatsoever -- neither national, nor human nor civil.
The present state of "temporary" occupation can last forever, and is therefore ideal for this purpose. However, a future Israeli government, an even more nationalist one, could change the formal situation by annexing these territories to Israel. That would make, in practice, no difference.
As many Israelis see it, this situation could go on forever. The official slogan is: "We have no partner for peace."