Facing Demographic Realities in Israel
Jeffrey Goldberg has an excellent and, I hope, important piece today at Bloomberg that explains well the inevitable consequences of Israel failing to return to something approaching its 1967 borders…..and soon. What makes Goldberg’s piece especially useful is that it does not wade into controversial questions about the morality or legality of settlements outside those borders.
Goldberg writes, in part:
If I were a Palestinian (and, should there be any confusion on this point, I am not), and if I were the sort of Palestinian who believed that Israelshould be wiped off the map, then I would be quite pleased with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s performance before Congress this morning….
My goal: To hopelessly, ineradicably, entangle the two peoples wedged between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.
Then I would wait as the Israeli population on the West Bank grew, and grew some more. I would wait until 2017, 50 years after the Six Day War, which ended with Israel in control of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. I would go before the UN and say the following:
“We, the Palestinians, no longer seek a homeland of our own. We recognize the permanence of Israeli occupation, the dominion of the Israeli military and the power of the Israeli economy. So we would like to join them. In the 50 years since the beginning of the ’temporary’ occupation, we have seen hundreds of thousands of Israelis build communities near our own communities. We admire what they have built, and the system of laws that governs their lives. Unlike them, many of us live under Israeli military law but have no say in choosing the Israelis who rule us. So we no longer want statehood. We simply want the vote.”
And this, of course, would bring about the end of Israel.
In other words, the increased entanglement of Palestinians and Jews will increasingly result in the State of Israel being geographically indistinguishable from the Palestinian Territories. Because, as Goldberg points out, Palestinians and Arabs must inevitably make up a demographic majority of the combined geographic entity, it will be impossible for Israel to remain an officially Jewish state without sacrificing its claim to being a liberal democracy. Instead, it will either need to become an apartheid state or be prepared to submit itself to the rule of Palestinian Muslims (who, we are constantly told by Right, are all radical Islamist theocrats bent on the extermination of the Jewish people).
Goldberg recognizes that a return to something approaching the 1967 borders carries its own hazards for Israel – it cannot be ignored that Israel was forced to defend those borders against its neighbors far too often, even if it did so successfully, and wars always carry grave risks and costs. It also cannot be ignored that a return to something approaching the 1967 borders has been an accepted part of any eventual outcome amongst Israeli and American leaders, including Ariel Sharon and George Bush, for years yet has not brought peace any nearer. But, as Goldberg has pointed out elsewhere, Israel would be in an even better position than in the past to defend those borders. Meanwhile, at least the hazards of returning to the 1967 borders are only a risk, not a guarantee, whereas an impossibly tangled geographic entity with a Muslim majority is a guarantee, not a risk, should Israel fail to return to those borders.
Not that Goldberg’s “demographic doom” thesis is anything new – it’s certainly been around for years. But coming in the wake of the bizarre controversies of the last week, I think Goldberg’s piece is important nonetheless. Or at least it should be.
Alas, so far as I can tell from reviewing the comments to Goldberg’s piece and from what I’ve read over the last several days from various American conservative websites, the response to the “demographic doom” argument seems to fall primarily into two categories that either straw man the argument or are blissfully unaware of demographic reality:
1. Israel is not an apartheid state and is not South Africa; 20% of the Israeli electorate is already Arab. This ignores the issue – the question is not whether Israel is an apartheid state, it’s whether Israel will choose to become an apartheid state if the Palestinians ever drop their demand for a separate state and accept the geographic reality of their residence within the State of Israel. I have not seen anyone suggest there is any alternative whatsoever, much less a realistic alternative, to something resembling apartheid should that happen other than the de facto end of Israel’s status as a Jewish state, ie, the end of Zionism.
2. The Palestinian population is not increasing as rapidly as claimed, and the Palestinians lie about the size of their population. This claim doesn’t prove as much as it thinks it proves. Let us assume that the claim itself is correct. In fact, let us assume that Palestinian population growth and Israeli population growth are identical for the foreseeable future. According to the CIA Factbook (which surely is not a pro-Palestinian source), roughly 23% of Israel’s 7.5 million people, are non-Jewish Arabs, including Israeli settlements. This equates to a little over 1.7 million non-Jewish Arabs and around 5.7 million Jews. According to the Israeli government’s own statistics, the population growth of Israeli Arabs is about 50% greater than the population growth of Israeli Jews.
By comparison, approximately 2.5 million people live in the West Bank, although this number includes close to a million people also included in the Israeli figures; sources skeptical of the Palestinian Authority claim that there are around 1.5 million Palestinian Arabs in the West Bank, so we’ll use that number here. The CIA also estimates an additional 1.6 million Palestinian Arabs live in the Gaza Strip.
Simple math gives us a total of 4.8 million non-Jewish Arabs (almost all of whom are Muslim) and 5.7 million Jews living in the three territories combined. This is, again, just based on number obtained from generally pro-Israeli sources. This is hardly a comfortable margin, especially when you consider that, according to Israel’s own statistics, the non-Jewish Arabic population in Israel is growing at a vastly faster rate than the Israeli Jewish population.
So let us project our assumptions, based on these pro-Israeli numbers, into the future. To make this as pro-Israeli settlements as possible, we are unrealistically assuming that the population growth in the Palestinian Territories is identical to the population growth amongst Israeli Jews, 1.7%. For purposes of this experiment, however, we also must accept the Israeli government’s estimation of a 2.6% annual growth in non-Jewish Israeli Arabs. Using even these unrealistically pro-settler numbers, simple math tells us that in less than 30 years Israeli Jews will be a minority in the combined area formed by Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank. If the population growth rate in the Palestinian Territories outpaces the population growth rate amongst Israeli Jews by even one half of a percent, still significantly less than the population growth rate amongst Israeli Arabs, this will happen in less than 20 years.
Most importantly – and now we start to enter the realm of realistic assumptions – if the population growth rate amongst Palestinian Arabs parallels the population growth rate amongst Israeli Arabs, then Israeli Jews will be a minority within less than 15 years.
And again, these calculations use current population figures that are as friendly as possible to the position that Israeli settlements cause minimal demographic threat.
The fact is that Goldberg is 100% correct: so long as we assume that the apartheid option will always be unacceptable to Israelis, the Palestinians alone benefit from the lack of a peace agreement with defined territorial boundaries. They need not stall for very long. On the question of borders, therefore, Israel’s negotiating position lacks any meaningful leverage, at least outside of areas that are already majority-Jewish.