Let’s be clear. There is one reason and one reason only why Palestinians have not achieved independence and no peace agreement has been reached with Israel. The Palestinians are not interested and have rejected every opportunity to achieve both. Still, U.S. officials and others continue to squawk like parrots about a “two-state solution” as if their mere vocalization would make it so.
In his letter to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in 2004, President George W. Bush wrote what should be obvious, that given “new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli populations centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final-status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949.” Any final-status agreement, he said, “will only be achieved on the basis of mutually agreed changes that reflect these realities.”
Sadly, President Joe Biden is following in the footsteps of Bush’s successor, former President Barack Obama, in refusing to acknowledge those realities.
Pointless as it may be given their myopia, let’s remind the president and his diplomats of life as it is rather than as they would like it to be in Israel and the “disputed territories.”
Yaakov Katz has recently published his annual collection of statistics on Jewish communities in the West Bank (and, yes, he calls it the West Bank) based on Israeli government data. According to his report, the Jewish population is now nearly half a million (490,493 to be precise), an increase of nearly 17 percent over the last five years. This does not include 330,000 Jews living in parts of Jerusalem that are in “disputed territory.”
If you put your head in the sand and ignore the Palestinian objective of creating a state from the river to the sea and believe they will settle for a Judenrein state based on the 1949 armistice lines with eastern Jerusalem as their capital, more than 820,000 Jews would have to be removed from their homes—nearly 12 percent of the Jewish population of Israel. Apparently, the Palestinians believe the Jews will march like lemmings into the sea for their benefit.
Now for those who insist that settlements are the obstacle to peace, I refer you to paragraph one. Also, a historical reminder: If the Palestinians had accepted autonomy in 1979, the number of settlers would have likely been frozen around 10,000. If the Palestinians had fulfilled their Oslo obligations, the number would have been roughly 170,000. Had PLO head Yasser Arafat not rejected Ehud Barak’s peace offer, the figure would have been 200,000. When Bush wrote his letter to Sharon and unsuccessfully sought Palestinian support for his Road Map, there were 246,000 settlers. The last time the Palestinians engaged in serious negotiations, in 2008, they walked away from an independent state and left 260,000 Jews on “their land.” In the succeeding 13 years, that number has increased by nearly 90 percent.
Congratulations, Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas. Your intransigence is really paying off. You are the true father of the settlements.
So, here’s a reality check for the parrots.
Most two-state proposals envision that Israel will annex Betar Illit (pop. 67,000) and five settlement blocs—Ma’ale Adumim (50,000), Modi’in Illit (91,000), Ariel (65,000), Gush Etzion (37,000) and Givat Ze’ev (37,000) —encompassing 37 communities. That is roughly one-third of all the settlements and 71 percent of the total Jewish population. At Camp David in 2000, Israel insisted that 80 percent of the Jewish residents of Judea and Samaria be under Israeli sovereignty.
An agreement to dismantle the settlements outside the blocs would require the removal of more than 140,000 people. The expectation during the Camp David talks was that roughly one-third of the Jews living in other settlements would agree to move into these blocs or other parts of Israel. This assumption has never been tested, and that number could be larger or smaller. If it is accurate, the percentage in the blocs would reach 80 percent but still require Israel to evacuate nearly 100,000 people or the equivalent of the entire city of West Palm Beach. This assumes that Israel was not forced to remove any of the thousands of Jews in eastern Jerusalem to make way for a Palestinian capital.
How many Americans remember the cost and trauma that was involved in evacuating 9,000 Jews from the Gaza Strip? Do the parrots seriously believe any Israeli government is going to send in the army to remove 100,000 or more Jews from their homes?
Oh, but won’t they voluntarily leave in the interest of peace?
Given decades of Palestinian incitement, terror, intransigence and the indoctrination of children with hatred, what do you think it will take to convince Israelis that Palestinians are seriously prepared to live in peace? Another handshake like the one to seal the Oslo accords?
OK, the settlers are not fools, but they’ll leave for money.
Many settlers would give up their homes if compensated and they believed it would contribute to peace. The United States has said it won’t pay for the removal of settlers, so it would cost the government of Israel billions of dollars to pay thousands of Jews to leave their homes. The true believers that the Land of Israel is more important than the State of Israel will not move at any price. All the settlers also know that even with the money they received, the lives and livelihoods of many Jews from Gaza were ruined.
Demography doesn’t work for the Greater Israel enthusiasts either. I know there is a school of thought that all the Palestinian demographic statistics are inflated, that the Jewish birthrate now exceeds that of the Arabs, and that Jews will immigrate in large numbers in the coming years. Still, if we look at the demographics today, the picture is not favorable for annexationists. Despite the million Jews who came from the former Soviet Union, the percentage of the Israeli population that is Jewish has fallen from 85 percent in 1975 to 74 percent today.
If you add Israel’s current population of 9,450,000 (6,998,000 Jews) with the disputed territories (4.9 million, according to CIA data, compared to 5,164,173, according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics) you get an entity with nearly 14.4 million people, and the percentage of Jews would fall under 50 percent. Even if the CIA figures were off by a million, a bare majority would be Jews.
Some argue that Israel should not annex Gaza—what would happen to it then is unclear—in which case the Jewish population would increase to 56 percent of the population, but the Palestinians would still make up a significant minority (44 percent compared to 21 percent today).
The traditional argument is that Israel would then face the dilemma of whether to deny the Palestinians the right to vote and cease to be a democracy, or allow them equal rights and lose its Jewish character. The people who deny the dilemma exists typically argue that the Jews will remain the majority and downplay or ignore the impact of a significantly larger Arab population than the one today.
Consider, however, that unlike most of the Israeli Arabs today, the Palestinians in the territories would be a potential hostile fifth column. If they decided to participate in the political process, they would undoubtedly alter the character of the state. With just 21 percent of the population, the Arab parties hold 10 seats in the Knesset, the third most, and the Ra’am Party is holding the coalition together. If the population doubled and their Knesset representation did as well, the Arab parties would be the second-largest faction if the election outcome was similar to the last one.
Israel could freeze settlements tomorrow and the demographic reality wouldn’t change, and the population would still continue to have natural growth.
It was unpopular, but the Trump plan was the first to seriously take into account the demographics. Going back to the same old failed policies of the past, as Biden seems keen to do, will have as much success as convincing Polly to give him a cracker.
Mitchell Bard is a foreign-policy analyst and an authority on U.S.-Israel relations who has written and edited 22 books, including “The Arab Lobby, Death to the Infidels: Radical Islam’s War Against the Jews” and “After Anatevka: Tevye in Palestine.”