The Israel of today bears little resemblance to the state whose independence was proclaimed by David Ben-Gurion almost sixty years ago, on May 14, 1948.
At independence, Israel’s population stood at about 806,000, including 650,000 Jews and 156,000 Arabs. Israel’s population by 2007 stood at 7.05 million, including 5,313 million Jews (78%). The Jewish population has increased more than five-fold since independence, the result of both natural increase and the state’s successful absorption of more than 2.8 million Jewish immigrants from over 70 countries, including the Arab and Islamic countries of the Middle East and North Africa, Ethiopia, and the former Soviet Union.
Although virtually bereft of natural resources and faced with substantial burdens of immigrant absorption and of security, Israel has evolved from a poor country at independence, with weak agricultural and industrial sectors and a dependence on foreign imports, into a regional hi-tech economic power by the beginning of the 21st century, with a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of more than $12 billion (US) and a per capita GDP of more than $24,000.
Although there are important structural problems that still must be addressed, including the growing disparity between rich and poor Israelis, the fundamental strength and promise of Israel’s economy was reaffirmed in Warren Buffett’s decision to invest heavily in Israeli ventures in the summer of 2006, at the height of the Second Lebanon War!
Within hours of proclaiming independence, Israel was invaded by Arab armies dedicated to destroying the Jewish state. Today, Israel has peace treaties with two Arab countries (Egypt and Jordan), and Israel has signed a series of interim agreements with the PLO and the Palestinian Authority and, under US sponsorship, has recently resumed substantive negotiations with the Palestinian leadership towards the goal of a permanent, two-state settlement. Moreover, while a comprehensive regional agreement remains a distant dream, Israel recently sat at the same negotiating table with virtually all of its Arab neighbours who, however grudgingly, now seemingly recognize Israel’s existence.
While many Arabs and their international supporters still must recognize Israel’s legitimacy as a Jewish state, such legitimacy is reaffirmed in a practical sense by Israel’s membership (however imperfect) in the United Nations and its “normal” bilateral relationships with Canada and scores of other countries as well as Israel’s relationship with Diaspora Jewish communities.
At the heart of Israel’s agenda for the future is the enduring quest for peace, which constantly must be balanced with the fundamental need for security and survival.