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East Jerusalem and Demography

24 August 2002

By Yisrael Ne’eman

Reality has a way of imposing itself on all those who refuse to acknowledge the truth.  For years Israelis have fooled themselves into thinking that East Jerusalem Arabs were different than other Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza.  Years ago they were issued blue Israeli identity cards and given yellow Israeli license plates for their cars and presto they were virtually Israeli citizens.  Already in the late 1960s people began to speak of a united Jerusalem.  In 1967 approximately 55,000 East Jerusalem Arabs were included in the capitals municipal boundaries to the north, south and east of the city were developed as Jewish neighborhoods.  Jerusalem was over three quarters Jewish and its majority was expected to increase.

But the whole operation backfired as the natural growth of the Arab population, coupled with the internal immigration of Arab families from the West Bank (and even Gaza) in search of plentiful jobs in construction and tourism outstripped government plans for an overwhelming Jewish majority in the nations capital.  Today the Jewish population is thought to be less than two thirds Jewish and falling.  The Arabs claim the East Jerusalem Palestinian population to be 300,000 with the Jewish estimate closer to a quarter of a million.

The Arab population enjoys social security and unemployment benefits while being much more fully absorbed in the Israeli economy than anyone in the West Bank and Gaza.  But as former deputy mayor Meron Benvenisti warned a group of Jewish student journalists in 1976 of which this writer was one, You cannot buy off nationalism with flush toilets, these same East Jerusalem Arabs would remain Palestinian nationalists no matter how many benefits they were to receive.

And so they have 35 years after the 1967 Six Day War.  Israelis preferred to down play their involvement in terrorism over the decades and in the past two years the relative quiet of East Jerusalem in comparison to the West Bank and Gaza was taken as a sign of their non-involvement.  But it was a mirage.

When former prime minister Ehud Barak offered East Jerusalem to the Palestinians in the Camp David negotiations in 2000 he recognized the demographic and national issues involved.  Of course all this was turned down by Arafat since he did not seek even the most generous of two state solutions but rather the destruction of the State of Israel.

Nor should Baraks proposals be the proposals of today.  He was willing to split the Old City and concede the Mt. Of Olives, the City of David (Silwan) and other areas of historic and religious value to Jews.  Demographics are a security issue and must be given serious consideration when redrawing the borders in Jerusalem, however they are not the sole consideration even if East Jerusalem is a financial and security drain on the Jewish State and gives little in return.

True those areas to remain in Israel and mentioned above also can have hostile Arab  populations such as the terror squad that originated in Silwan or City of David.  But if 80% of East Jerusalems Arab population were relinquished to the Palestinians, the security headache of the other 20% would diminish significantly.

The Israel National Security Council just released a report claiming Israels security is very much based on its demography.  Israels future border with the Palestinians must run so as to retain a vast Jewish majority and concede areas which force Israel into being a bi-national state.  This has been discussed extensively in the context of the security fence now being built.

And it also applies to Jerusalem.