On changing Israeli demographics

The mantra of an impending demographic threat has been a constant of the conflict since 1967. But is it?

Jews pack the area in front of Jerusalem’s Western Wall for the Birkat Kohanim Priestly Blessing during Sukkot, Oct. 8, 2017. Photo by Yaakov Lederman/Flash90.
Jews pack the area in front of Jerusalem’s Western Wall for the Birkat Kohanim Priestly Blessing during Sukkot, Oct. 8, 2017. Photo by Yaakov Lederman/Flash90.
Yisrael Medad
Yisrael Medad is a researcher, analyst and opinion commentator on political, cultural and media issues.

On March 21, 2013, in front of a large and sympathetic audience of youth, then President Barack Obama spoke in Jerusalem of his vision of peace. In more than 5,400 words, he delved into many issues. In one section, he zeroed in on three points, the first being:

Given the demographics west of the Jordan River, the only way for Israel to endure and thrive as a Jewish and democratic state is through the realization of an independent and viable Palestine. That is true.

That translates as “there are too many Arabs.” If their large numbers are absorbed into the State of Israel, as popular wisdom has it, either their voting power will alter the Jewish character of the state or, if that outcome is prevented by denying Arabs citizenship rights, Israel will lose its democratic regime frame. Hillary Clinton, at AIPAC’s 2010 conference said the same thing:

there is, I think, a belief among many that the status quo can be sustained. But the dynamics of demography, ideology, and technology make this impossible … we cannot ignore the long-term population trends that result from the Israeli occupation … the inexorable mathematics of democracy—of demography are hastening the hour at which Israelis may have to choose between preserving their democracy and staying true to the dream of a Jewish homeland. Given this reality, a two-state solution is the only viable path for Israel to remain both a democracy and a Jewish state.

This mantra of an impending demographic threat has been a constant of the conflict since 1967. But is it?

Over the recent years, studies such as those by Yakov Faitelson and Yoram Ettinger, the Metzilah Center have sought to prove that the published Palestinian Authority figures are unreliable. Arab birth rates are decreasing while the Jewish rate is increasing, so, too, are the numbers of Arabs emigrating and other issues.

However, there is a problem with numbers and counting. They can be fluid and not at all final.

For example, back in 2009 we were informed that:

“long-term projection flowing from existing trends allows the Jewish majority to hold firm at around 75 percent of the population … the two contrasting views—that Israel is inevitably moving toward binationalism and that the current trends are not threatening the preservation of the Jewish majority—should be revisited and assessed with greater caution.”

And there could be surprises.

In a review of the situation of the Arabs-called-Palestinian people published this past week, Ola Awad, president of the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, said that data indicated that the total number of Jews residing in what they consider as the West Bank was 636,452 by the end of 2016. There is a bit of confusion in that their breakdown is that 302,188 (47.5 percent) of them lived in a “Jerusalem Governorate,” the borders of which I am unfamiliar, with 222,325 in the neighborhoods of Jerusalem constructed after 1967. That second figure is correct.

Subtracting it from the overall sum (which is low I would maintain), we arrive at 414,127 in the Jewish communities of Judea and Samaria.

In demographic terms, the current proportion of Jews to the non-Israeli Arab population in what the Palestinian Authority views as “occupied” is around 22 percent. Incidentally, that’s a mirror image of Israel’s Arab population approximately, which is around 20 percent.

If Israel within the Green Line armistice boundary can exist with that figure of a minority, without agreeing to any final-status result of negotiations with the Palestinian Authority, what all should agree upon is that no Jew need be expelled or his property dismantled. If Arabs can live in Israel, then Jews can live in a Palestine, if it is established.

Of course, if the demographics of the Arab population continue in a negative trend whereas the Jewish population steadily increases, then perhaps a two-state solution is really quite unnecessary.

Yisrael Medad is an American-born Israeli journalist and author.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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