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What happens if the peace process fails?

Israel, the West Bank, and potentially even Gaza could become a single de facto state.

A Palestinian protestor flashes a v-sign as they hold a demonstration demanding reconstruction of the areas destroyed in the Israeli attacks.
Ashraf Amra/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
Zack Beauchamp is a senior correspondent at Vox, where he covers ideology and challenges to democracy, both at home and abroad. Before coming to Vox in 2014, he edited TP Ideas, a section of Think Progress devoted to the ideas shaping our political world.

If the peace process fails, Israel, the West Bank, and potentially even Gaza could become a single de facto state, as it’s not clear how separate Israeli and Palestinian states could be established absent some kind of legal agreement to keep them distinct. That means one of two things: either Israel ceases to exist as a Jewish state, or the Palestinians become permanent second-class citizens in an Israel that includes the West Bank and potentially even Gaza.

Arabs will eventually outnumber Jews in Israel-Palestine, if they don’t already. For Israel, which sees itself as both Jewish and democratic, this poses an existential crisis. If Arabs outnumber Jews and are allowed to vote, then it’s the end of a Jewish state. But if Arabs outnumber Jews and aren’t allowed to vote, then Israel is no longer a democracy.

That’s the force of the South Africa analogy many commentators have used: a Jewish state that represses an Arab majority would feel an awful lot like a form of apartheid. The comparison is particularly troubling for Israelis, who are concerned about being boycotted and sanctioned in the international sphere in the way South Africa’s racial regime was before its demise.

Israeli conservatives often contest these demographics. They argue that Palestinians overstate their numbers for political reasons and that the Israeli population tends to grow faster than experts think. However, the mainstream view is that Israel’s demographic problem is real, and Israel faces a choice between three outcomes: a two-state solution, a non-democratic state governed by a Jewish minority, or the end of a Jewish state.

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