Time is on Israel’s Side
In its last issue, The Economist claims that Israel will not remain Jewish if it does not evacuate the West Bank (“demography,” it says, is heading to “a Palestinian majority”). Interestingly, The Economist’s argument is no longer about peace but about demographics. With the Oslo Agreements having brought war and bloodshed, and with the European-imposed Arab state model crumbling under the weight of political Islam, the idea that establishing a 23rd failed Arab state is what will bring peace to this war-torn region does not even pass the laughing test. Hence has the justification for Palestinian statehood switched (at least among rational people) from peace to demographics.
But if The Economist and other proponents of the two-state model have been so wrong about peace, why assume that they are so right about demographics?
For a start, Gaza is now out of the equation, and therefore calculations only apply to pre-1967 Israel and to the West Bank. The binational scare is based on a census conducted in 1997 by the “Palestine Central Bureau of Statistics” (PCBS). According to that census, there were 2.78 million Arabs in the West Bank in 1997. This figure surprised many at the time because a similar census conducted by the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics (ICBS) in 1996 had revealed that the number of Arabs in the West Bank was of 2.11 million. How could the Arab population have increased so rapidly within a year?
The answer is that the PCBS included 325,000 overseas residents and double-counted the 210,000 Arab residents of Jerusalem. In 2011, there were about 400,000 Arabs from the West Bank living overseas. They are still included in the PCBS demographic count. According to internationally accepted demographic standards, overseas residents who are abroad for over a year are not counted demographically. The PCBS does not abide by this international standard (Israel does). The PCBS also assumed, back in 1997, that there would be an annual net Arab immigration to the West Bank and Gaza of 45,000. In reality, there has been an annual net Arab emigration from the West Bank and Gaza.
According to Israeli demographer Sergio della Pergola, Jews constitute a 62% majority between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, excluding the Gaza Strip. When Israel declared its independence in 1947, there was a one-third Jewish minority. In 1947, Roberto Bachi (a professor of statistics and founder of Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics) implored Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion not to declare independence. Bachi claimed at the time that with a population of 600,000 the Jews would become a minority by 1967. Bachi did not take into account the massive waves of “Aliya” (Jewish immigration), and his predictions turned out to be mistaken.
The Jewish population has grown so far, mostly thanks to Aliya. How does the trend look for the coming years?
Since 1992, the Arab fertility rate in the West Bank has decreased significantly and consistently (it is now of 3.2 births per woman). Within pre-1967 Israel, the Arab fertility rate has decreased from 9.23 in 1964 to 3.5 today. This decrease has been constant. Jewish fertility rates have also decreased since 1964, but very slightly: from 3.39 in 1964 to 3.0 today. But, more significantly, the Jewish fertility rate started increasing in the late 1990s (it was 2.62 in 1999, 2.71 in 2004, and 3.0 in 2011). The fertility gap between Jews and Arabs went from 5.84 in 1964 to 0.5 today. So the gap is closing The increased Jewish fertility rate since the late 1990s is not only due to traditionally high rates among Orthodox Jews, but also among secular Israelis.
Then there is immigration and emigration. While there have been constant waves of Aliya since Israel’s independence (thus ensuring the growth of the Jewish population), there has been a net annual emigration of West Bank Arabs.
So to claim, as The Economist does, that “demography” is heading “to a Palestinian majority” is factually wrong. This does not mean, of course, that a 38% Arab minority (as opposed to the current 20%) is a good idea (it isn’t). But considering the odds of a failed and hostile state surrounding Jerusalem and overlooking Tel Aviv, and considering the actual demographic trends between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, there is no reason to panic about the current deadlock’s demographic consequences. The Palestinians have their own government. They admittedly don’t enjoy full freedom, but then again freedom and Arab statehood have proven to be a contradiction in terms.
As for the assertion that time is not on Israel’s side, it defies logic. Israel is a success story, while our Arab neighbors are plagued by civil wars, cultural decline, and economic contraction. If time is their friend, they surely don’t need enemies.
Dr. Emmanuel Navon heads the Political Science and Communication Department at the Jerusalem Orthodox College and teaches International Relations at Tel-Aviv University and the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center. He is a Senior Fellow at the Kohelet Policy Forum.