IF you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a thousand times. I first heard it when Menachem Begin was elected prime minister of Israel in 1977, ending 30 years of Labor party rule.
Begin pushed aside the common terms for the West Bank and Gaza, “territories held in abeyance” (the Israeli term) or “occupied territories” (the Arab term) and articulated a new term, “liberated territories.”
That caused an uproar. It is not my purpose here to revisit the range of objections to the Israeli right’s “Greater Israel” platform. I want to concentrate on only one objection to this platform: By holding these territories, Israel would either become a democratic, Arab state, or a non-democratic Jewish state.
This is because the Palestinian birthrate would overwhelm the Jews in the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. If Israel remained democratic, the Arabs would outvote the Jews and dismantle the Jewish state. If Israel remained Jewish, it could do so only by denying the Arabs the vote.
That was a loud critique of Begin’s “Greater Israel” policy then, and it has remained a critique of the Israeli right ever since. In fact, if I recall correctly, it was said back in 1977 that by 2020 the Arabs would outnumber the Jews in the land between the River and the Sea.
Well, it’s almost 2020 now. Has the trend followed the prediction?
IN a word: no.
Not factored into the predictions were these developments:
• As Palestinian society modernized, its birth rate dropped, consistent with trends in all societies that modernize.
• As the Israel-Palestinian conflict wore on, and particularly as the Palestinians pursued terrorism, and as Palestinian Muslims made life uncomfortable for Palestinian Christians, emigration from the West Bank and Gaza rose dramatically.
• As the demographic threat loomed, the Israeli birth rate rose, and not just among religious Israelis. The secular Israeli birth rate rose, too.
Where does that leave us today? According to a recent Jewish-Arab demographic study published Jan. 15 by Yakov Faitelson of the Institute for Zionist Strategies, and communicated by Yoram Ettinger:
• In 2011, there is a 66% Jewish majority in the combined area of pre-1967 Israel and the West Bank. Keep in mind that when these statistics began to be kept some 120 years ago, Jews were a 5% minority in the same area.
• The current Jewish population growth rate is higher than the highest scenario projected in 2007 by Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics. And the Arab growth rate matches the lowest scenario in that same projection.
• According to the UN Population Division, the overall Middle East fertility rate peaked at 6.33 births per woman in the 1950s and declined to 2.96 in 2010. The Jewish birth rate has risen since 1995 and reached 2.9 in 2010. That’s higher than the birth rate in Turkey, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.
• The surge in the Israeli secular birth rate is driven mainly by immigrants from the FSU.
• In 1995, there were 2.34 Jewish births per 1 Arab birth. In 2009-2010, there were 3.12 Jewish births per 1 Arab birth.
• The Arab birth rate in the West Bank dropped from 6.44 births per woman in 1990 to 3.12 births in 2010.
• Net emigration from the Palestinian Authority from 1994 to 2007 was 321,239, about 23,000 annually.
Sum up the numbers this way: In 1987, Prof. Armon Sofer of Haifa University projected that by 2000 there would be 4.2 million Jews and 3.5 million Arabs between the River and the Sea. In fact, there were 5 million Jews and 3.5 million Arabs in this area in 2000.
Bottom line: Argue for whatever policy you want on the West Bank, but do not argue on the basis of doom and gloom demography and its corollary, an anti-democratic Israel. It’s not happening.
Copyright © 2011 by the Intermountain Jewish News