The main rationale of the Oslo Accords was that establishing a 23rd Arab state ten miles away from Tel-Aviv would bring peace to Israel and stability to the Middle-East. This theory no longer passes the laughing test. Besides the bloody mess engendered by Oslo, the so-called “Arab Spring” has brought the European-inspired model of Arab nation-states to its knees. So why resuscitate a failed and dying model for a fictitious “Palestinian people” that has embraced Islamism like the rest of the Arab world?
Because of demography, of course. A Palestinian state might not bring peace, we are told, but it is nonetheless a necessity to save Israel from turning into a bi-national or a segregationist country.
Since proponents of the “two-state solution” were so wrong about peace, why assume that they are so right about demography?
The two-state solution has become a two-state religion, so let me indulge in blasphemy.
For a start, Gaza is now out of the equation. The “demographic threat” must therefore be gauged in pre-1967 Israel as well as in Judea and Samaria, i.e. in what is known as “the area between the River and the Sea” (referred to as “the area” in this article).
The case for the “demographic threat” 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 Judea and Samaria 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 Arab residents in Judea and Samaria 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 Arab residents of Judea and Samaria 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). Yet Israel’s public discourse on the “demographic threat” is based on the PCBS’ flawed census.
The PCBS also assumed, back in 1997, that there would be an annual net Arab immigration to Judea, Samaria and Gaza of 45,000. In reality, there has been an annual net Arab emigration from Judea, Samaria and Gaza of 25,000 on average.
In 2012, Jews constitute a two-third majority in the area (66% exactly). When Israel declared its independence in 1947, there was an opposite ratio (one third of Jews). In 1900, Jews were an 8% minority. So far, therefore, time has been on the Jews’ side. The question is whether time will continue to be on our side. Recent demographic trends suggest that the answer is positive.
Since 1992, the Arab fertility rate in Judea and Samaria 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, to the Jews’ advantage.
The constant increase of the Jewish fertility rate since the late 1990s is not only due to traditionally high rates among Orthodox Jews. Indeed, this rate has been increasing among secular Israelis.
The ICBS has consistently overestimated Arab fertility rates and underestimated Jewish fertility rates. Yet the “demographic threat” discourse is based on the ICBS’ mistaken predictions.
Then there is immigration and emigration. While there have been constant waves of Jewish immigration (“Aliya”) since Israel’s independence, there has been a net annual emigration of Arab residents from Judea and Samaria and from Gaza in recent years: 10,000 in 2004, 25,000 in 2006, and 28,000 in 2008.
So the claim that Israel would turn into a bi-national state were it to annex Judea and Samaria is unfounded. Jews would still constitute a two-third majority, and that majority would continue to increase according to the latest demographic trends.
Whether it is desirable for Israel to have a one-third minority of Arab citizens is admittedly a question that deserves to be asked, but the “bi-national threat” is groundless.
Future demographic trends must also take immigration and emigration into account. During the National Unity Government of Yitzhak Shamir and Shimon Peres (1984-1988), both leaders disagreed on the likeliness of massive Aliya from the Soviet Union. Peres claimed that bringing Jews from the Soviet Union was completely fanciful and that Shamir was advocating this idea only to provide a demographic rationale for his “annexationist ambitions in the West Bank” (as quoted by Dr. Zvi Zameret).
Yet Shamir was right and Peres was wrong: a million Jews immigrated to Israel from the Soviet Union and from Ethiopia under Shamir’s watch.
Today, the main reservoirs of potential Aliya to Israel and in North America and in Western Europe (5.27 million in the United States; 375,000 in Canada; 483,000 in France; 292,000 in Britain).
Aliyah from English-speaking countries has increased significantly in the past decade partly thanks to the wonderful work done by Nefesh BeNefesh. Most French Jews are on their way out, as explained by Michel Gurfinkiel in his latest blog.
Those who say today that bringing even half a million Jews from America and Europe in the next decade is fanciful should remember that the same claim was made two decades ago about Soviet Jewry.
Last but not least is the issue of economic incentives to encourage emigration. On that issue I just want to ask a question: why is it acceptable to suggest economic incentives for Jews to leave Judea and Samaria, but unacceptable to suggest the very same idea for Arab residents?
In 1947, Prof. Roberto Bachi implored Ben-Gurion not to declare independence. Bachi, a Professor of Statistics at the Hebrew University and the founder of Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, 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, in which he did not believe. His predictions were grossly mistaken but his spirit of doom was carried on by his student and follower Sergio Della Pergola (an Italian Jew like Bachi himself).
Had Ben-Gurion listened to statisticians and demographers in 1947, there would never have been a Jewish state. Contrary to what the same statisticians and demographers say today, Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state would not be undermined by the annexation of Judea and Samaria –provided that Israel actively encourages Aliyah from the West in the coming years.
As Ben-Gurion said after declaring independence: “A Jewish government whose concerns and actions will not be predominantly geared to the enterprise of aliya and settlement … will betray its foremost responsibility and will endanger the great historical achievement gained by our generation.”