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The Great Demography Debate

10 March 2014

By Yisrael Ne'eman.

Whenever there are serious discussions concerning conflict resolution between Israel and the Palestinians the Israeli/Jewish side of the table suddenly finds itself confronting the ten year old debate over how many Palestinians really do live in the West Bank. There is no intent to bore readers to tears with long demographic explanations but a few statistics are in order. In 2004 the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics estimated the population of the West Bank to be 2.42 million and of the Gaza Strip to be 1.41 million (total 3.83 million Palestinian Arabs). These statistics were challenged in a survey by the Bar Ilan Begin-Sadat research center entitled "The Million Person Gap: The Arab Population in the West Bank and Gaza" which claimed these numbers to be inflated. They cited the West Bank population as 1.41 million and Gaza at 1.08 million (total 2.49 million). This issue of demographics is seen as crucial since Israel is confronted with making peace whereby a two-state solution was and continues to be widely discussed in what is generally described as politically Left and Centrist forums. In much of the Right (but not all) and especially religious circles a one state solution is advanced as the preferred option.

Nowadays the Left/Centrists fear a one state option will lead to an Arab majority in the Land of Israel (from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea) and the Right/Religious believe the Land of Israel must remain one unit not only as an ideological point but assuring Israeli sovereignty over all will provide the most security. Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip in August 2005 during PM Ariel Sharon's second government thereby leaving any debate concerning Gaza annexation with its over one million residents (whether 1.08 or 1.41 million) as a statistical exercise.

Although he did not write the report, former diplomat Yoram Ettinger is the name most associated with the Bar Ilan survey and insistence that Israel should annex the West Bank. In opposition more than anyone else are Prof. Arnon Soffer, the well known geographer from the Univ. of Haifa and demographer Prof. Sergio Della Pergola from the Hebrew University. Over the past decade both dispute the Bar Ilan statistics claiming the Palestinian population to be much larger. Each side accuses the other of massive distortions. The exact ins and outs of the decade old debate are less important than where we stand now.

So where are we? Even should we take the minimalist 1.41 million figure from the Bar Ilan/Ettinger report and multiply it by a annual growth rate of 1.8% as claimed by the researchers (Bennet Zimmerman, Roberta Seid and Michael L. Wise) over the next decade and arrive at 2014 there are 1.77 million Palestinians in the West Bank, excluding East Jerusalem. Including Israeli Arabs (and East Jerusalem) in the 2013 Israel census we can add another 1.6 million which brings us to 3.37 million at minimum. Israel's Jewish population is 6.1 million plus another 348,000 non-Arab Christians mostly from Eastern Europe. The total population of Israel including the West Bank comes to approximately 9.8 million and we have not included African refugees and other non-legal residents. The non-Jewish population comes to at least 38% of the total. If we are only counting Arabs (Israeli and Palestinian) we are at a minimum of 34% of the population total. These are the minimalist numbers if we relate to the Bar Ilan report.

Now from the other side. The CIA World Factbook, the IDF (Israel Civil Administration), the Shin Bet (Israel's General Security Service), the UN and the Palestinians agree that the West Bank Arab population including East Jerusalem (about 305,000) adds up to some 2.7 million in 2013. Add in the Israeli Arab population minus East Jerusalem (1.3 million) and one arrives at some 4 million.

One other general figure from the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics in April 2012: There are said to be 12 million people from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea (including the Hamas ruled Gaza Strip). Two years ago there were 5.9 million Jews and 6.1 million non-Jews. In Israel itself the Jewish population was calculated at 75.4%. Over 20% were Arabs and some 4% were non-Jewish Europeans.

In speaking of the one-state solution using the minimalist statistics (34% Arabs) we need to ask ourselves about Arab representation in the Israeli legislature should there be an annexation where everyone is extended citizenship. The Arab potential for representation out of a body of 120 members of Knesset (MKs) would be 41 mandates. The Druze population of 1% is counted in due to language affiliation despite their overall loyalty to the State of Israel so we will round down to 40. Arab representation will be split between the secular Fatah types like Ahmed Tibi and Hanin Zuabi and Hamas style Islamists like Raid Salah (who is once more going to jail for incitement). Based on estimated support for Hamas in Israel and the West Bank we can figure about 15 Islamists entering the Knesset and 25 Fatah style secular Palestinian nationalists. As a counterpoint many right wing/religious politicians claim that Israeli Arabs either do not participate in elections or vote for Zionist parties so even should the Palestinians be included the Arab MKs will never reach 40. Such is wishful thinking, once the Arab population realizes that political power is certainly within their grasp, much fuller political participation will ensue. And lest we forget Jewish participation in national elections has dropped from a high of 80% to around 60% in recent years. This is as optimistic as it gets.

If we look at the less optimistic stats for 2013 of 4 million Arabs vs. 6.1 million Jews plus the 4-5% non-Jews, non-Arabs there are 38% Arabs (45 MKs) and 58% Jews (70 MKs). No one can be sure who the other 4-5% would vote for under such conditions. And to be more realistic – How many of those counted as Israeli Jews live abroad?

In the Bar Ilan minimalist (call it optimistic) case there will be at least one-third of the population representing an anti-Zionist stand and even moderates amongst them will demand the dismantlement of the Jewish State as a national entity. Now to the Jewish side. Do not forget the Askenazi ultra-orthodox non-Zionist United Torah Judaism (UTJ) who within such an expanded context would poll some 5 MKs (in today's Knesset there are 7). The Sephardi Shas would poll some 8 MKs (today there are 11) and although for the most part considered pro-state there is some support from non-Zionist elements. Optimistically – 45 MKs will represent anti and non-Zionist platforms.

On the other hand political ramifications based on the less optimistic 2013 census leave us with at least 50 MKs representing anti or non-Zionist positions. Now add in the highest birthrates in the country led by the Arab and haredi populations. We already know that in 2017 half the children entering kindergarten in Israel proper will be either Arab or haredi. This number does not include West Bank Arabs of whom 40% are 14 years of age or under (and population growth rate of 2% according to the CIA World Factbook). Overall Arab birthrates are still higher than Jewish and the only reason Jewish birthrates are not low by western standards is because of the haredi population growth.

Want more? Why not? The per capita income in Israel is estimated at some $32,000 and in the West Bank it is one tenth or about $3,200. With full rights as citizens after annexation virtually the entire West Bank Arab population will be entitled to unemployment benefits (2013 unemployment figures are 22.5%), child allowances and massive welfare payments not to mention government subsidies to West Bank municipalities. Furthermore Israel has the honor of supporting the school system where despite state standards we can expect Fatah and Hamas doctrines to be taught. What about law enforcement against such acts? Expect these new Palestinian citizens to join the police force and other security services and if rejected for these functions they will go to court to demand their rights. Also, if the haredim (ultra-orthodox) can have their own independent schools separate from the independent state system, why should religious Palestinian Muslims not enjoy the same rights?

We will see massive wealth redistribution from the Jewish sector to the Palestinian West Bank Arab community to the tune of tens of billions of shekels. Taxes will need to rise to be in line with the law (social welfare payments, etc.) or if not we can watch the social gap explode when whipped up with Arab nationalist and Islamist sentiment (which may happen in any case). We will begin the process of self-immolation catalyzed by the newly incorporated Arab/Muslim West Bank community demanding the destruction of the Jewish State. To repeat – all West Bank residents will now be citizens with full equal rights. Moderate Israeli Arabs already demand de-Zionization, meaning Israel should not serve as the nation state homeland of the Jewish People. West Bank Arabs will be more in line with demanding Israel's complete demise.

Israel can expect widening boycotts and diplomatic ruptures especially from Europe should there be annexation. There will be much less support from America, if at all, and a serious split with the mainstream Jewish community known for its liberalism. On the military level, could Israel be considered a dependable ally of the US? Now ask yourself another question, "How many of your solid middle class, entrepreneurial, army serving (incl. reserves), tax-paying, loyal Zionist Jews will remain in the country for long? And what future will their children see?" Will they see Israel as the realization of the Zionist dream? It is true that some of the supporters of the modern orthodox national religious settler movement may expect a Messianic End Time to be on its way but this number is negligible.

Consider the above to be the reasons why neither right wing PMs Menachem Begin (1977-83), Yitzchak Shamir (1983-84 and 1986-92), Ariel Sharon (2001-06) nor Benyamin Netanyahu (1996-99 and 2009-present) would annex the Palestinian territories. All are said to have believed in keeping all the Land of Israel from the Jordan River to the Sea. Whether speaking of massive aliyah (Jewish immigration) or a slowing of Palestinian Arab population growth, the issue is about sustainability of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. Annexing Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) will ensure that Israel is neither Jewish nor democratic. We might want to look at the Christian Lebanese and their fate in the second half of the 20th century to get an inkling of what awaits us.

It might be a good idea to actually count all the Palestinian Arab residents of the West Bank just to get an accurate demographic accounting. However, the truth of the matter is that whether the number is 1.8 million or 2.4 million is of no real significance. Socially, economically and security wise Israel will not survive an annexation of the Palestinian Arab West Bank.

So who's to blame? We Jews are. (More about that in the next article.)