THROUGH 57 years of its modern history, four wars, wars of attrition, terrorism, informal trade boycotts, and attempts at coordinated international isolation, Israel has not only survived, it has flourished, a conclusion underscored by my recent trip there.
However, enduring problems were also evident.
Israel successfully embraced the remnants of post-World War II European Jewry, post-cold war Soviet Jewry, the ancient Jewish communities of Ethiopia, North Africa, and various Arab states, as well as Jewish immigrants from the Americas, Western Europe, South Africa, Oceana, and Asia.
The dream of a Jewish homeland has come true.
Like most modern democracies there are fundamental problems in Israeli society. Most every social ill we find in our own communities can also be found in Israel.
Although the problems are daunting, Israel's future will not be determined by social policy, the state of the Israeli economy, or its relations with neighbor states.
The future of Israel could likely be determined within the next few weeks or months as the withdrawal from Gaza is executed or fails.
Today Israel and Israelis are faced with a monumental decision.
Actions taken by the Sharon government to unilaterally withdraw from Gaza and eventually large portions of Samaria and Judea (the West Bank) will ensure a majority Jewish population in Israel while at the same time surrendering large swaths of strategic territory. This is territory won through war, and historically documented as part of the Jewish nation.
No one would have expected Ariel Sharon to be the prime minister who would lead Israel to this place in its history.
Mr. Sharon's legacy was more likely to have been linked to the expansion of settlements than to a total withdrawal from Gaza and an eventual retreat from much of Judea and Samaria that was captured by Israel in the 1967 war.
My recent visit provided an opportunity to hear diverse and divisive opinions on the withdrawal from a broad cross section of Israelis. Those on the far left (the Peace Now movement) would immediately withdraw from all of Gaza and the West Bank.
The leadership of the Gush Etzion Block would prefer a solution that provides Palestinians with Jordanian passports but allows them to remain within Israel's current borders (no withdrawal).
Israeli political scientists suggest there is no choice but to withdraw. However, as could be expected from academicians, there is a variety of opinion on what "withdrawal" means and where the borders should be.
A vocal minority of right-wing Israelis suggests a forced relocation of the Palestinian population to Jordan, the justification being that 80 percent of Jordan is Palestinian and that they are ruled by the minority Hashemite dynasty.
This group presents the argument that there has been no pressure on Jordan to give equal status to the majority Palestinian population living in Jordan and that Gaza, Judea, and Samaria are historically part of greater Israel and not to be surrendered.
Regardless of perspective, any study of population trends between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River leads to a frightening conclusion. Within a short period of time, the accelerating birth rate of Israeli Arabs and Palestinian Arabs living in Gaza, the West Bank, and within Israel proper will result in a Jewish minority in Eretz Israel.
If Israeli Jews find themselves governing a non-Jewish majority within the boundaries of Israel without giving full citizenship rights to those Arabs and Palestinians, the territorial integrity of modern Israel may be left intact. However, the social, political, and economic consequences of ruling over a majority population which is not Jewish will result in a new and unpleasant chapter of Israel's history.
If there is to be a homeland for the Jewish people, where Jews govern in a democratically elected government, where Jews from any corner of the earth can be welcomed, and where the dreams and aspirations of a modern Jewish nation can continue to emanate from, there is no choice but to move forward with the evacuation of Gaza and enter into final negotiations on West Bank lands.
Israel cannot survive as a Jewish state if Jews become a minority in their own homeland.
As difficult as that decision may be, it is made more so in light of the two issues on which every Israeli does agree.
Doves, hawks, settlers, peaceniks, career military officers, conscientious objectors, native Israelis, and new immigrants are all in agreement that neither the Palestinians nor the Palestinian leadership can be trusted or entrusted to enforce the peace.
And that same diverse cross section of Israeli society is equally aware of the institutionalized hate fostered by a Palestinian infrastructure that breeds terrorists and is fed by outside hostile interests (Iran and Saudi Arabia).
In other words, institutionalized hate may prevail over political concessions and sacrifice of territory.
The realization that demographics will force territorial concessions without any true guarantee of peace is a reality that Israelis recognize.
Once land has been sacrificed for "peace," will peace come?
That is the question that every Israeli asks and for which no one has a definitive answer.
Joel Beren is Chief Executive Officer of the United Jewish Council of Greater Toledo.
Guidelines: Please keep your comments smart and civil. Don't attack other readers personally, and keep your language decent. Comments that violate these standards, or our privacy statement or visitor's agreement, are subject to being removed and commenters are subject to being banned. To post comments, you must be a registered user on toledoblade.com. To find out more, please visit the FAQ.