Answering the demographic argument

On Sunday I found myself ‘stunned’ by the remarks of Hedva Radovanitz, a former officer of the New Israel Fund (NIF) who said that she believed that

in 100 years Israel would be majority Arab and that the disappearance of a Jewish state would not be the tragedy that Israelis fear since it would become more democratic.

Today I understand that I shouldn’t have been surprised. This point of view is not really all that rare among the Jewish Left.

I suppose the stunning part is the way they can throw away the idea of a Jewish state so easily, when creating it was so difficult. Apparently keeping it may be as difficult or more so.

To my surprise, I received an answer from another former board member of the NIF and a member of the steering committee of Shatil, its “operational arm” in Israel. I don’t have permission to use his name, but he is a serious academic, someone that nobody would call an extremist. Here is what he wrote:

Here’s the problem:

Israel has 7.5m people, of whom ~20% are Arabs:  5.84m Jews and 1.59m Arabs.  Israel is democratic with a lot of discrimination:  Israeli Arabs are kept under control by depriving them of land rights, discrimination in housing and jobs.

The West Bank has around 2m Arabs (also 350,000 Jews, but these are also counted in the Israeli census figures).  They are kept under control by isolating them geographically one from the other, depriving them of all but the most fundamental rights (they can eat and shit, but they do not have freedom of movement without getting permission from the Israeli military, the unemployment rate is 20-40%) and by making the hapless Palestinian regime “responsible” for their welfare.  Their population is unknown, but somewhere between 2-4 million.

The dream of the Israeli right is to hold onto the West Bank and integrate into Israel  (most of them feel that somehow the Arabs will then just disappear). Suppose we succeed in holding onto the West Bank, and suppose that there is neither a massive Jewish immigration nor any return of Palestinian refugees.  As the spreadsheet below shows, in just 14 years, the population of Israel/West Bank will be about 55% Jewish and 45% Arab.   In 2025, the % of completely-deprived-of-civil-rights West Bank Arabs will have risen to 26%.

Now suppose we use the same population growth figures, but shift the date to 2050.  Jews will be 43% of the total population and West Bankers 37%.  Shift the date to 100 years from now, adjust the Arab growth rates down significantly, and you still get a very small Jewish minority.

So now the Jewish people—with a strong democratic tradition—has a problem:  Suppose we exclude the possibility of expulsion of Arab from Israel/Palestine.  If we get rid of the West Bank and manage to integrate the existing Israeli-Arab population (this will drive their birth rates down, and perhaps make them better citizens), then we have a chance of having a Jewish state.  It will have a large ethnic Arab minority, but this is doable.

On the other hand, if we insist on keeping the West Bank, then there is no way that we can have a Jewish state west of the Jordan River.  Unless, of course, we continue to oppress the West Bankers … in which case we will look even more like South Africa pre-1993.  Ultimately the Arabs will rise up and we will (at best) have a bi-national state.

This is the well-known ‘demographic argument’ against keeping control of the territories. Before I discuss it, I want to point out that it does not make the comment of Hedva Radovanitz, quoted above, any less offensive or irresponsible. Radovanitz not only predicted an Arab majority, but welcomed it, saying it would be ‘more democratic’. If her desire for an end to the Jewish state — in effect, a third diaspora for the Jewish people — characterizes the NIF, it is a pernicious organization indeed.

But let’s tackle the argument above, a case for divestment from the territories. I don’t intend to quibble with the numbers or growth rates (although some do).

The first thing to think about is that the argument above does not take security into account. The “hapless Palestinian regime” is the PLO, the folks who have murdered more Jews than anyone since the German guy with the funny mustache. The policy of the PLO, which should be 100% clear to anyone who pays attention to what its spokespeople say in Arabic, is to use a Palestinian state in the territories to leverage the conversion of Israel into an Arab state. More evidence for this consists of the PLO’s unending incitement against Jews and Israel,  veneration of terrorists, presentation of ‘Palestine’ as encompassing all of Israel, refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, etc.

There is also the very real possibility that the US, Europe and Israel will not succeed in propping up this regime, vicious as it is, and it will be taken over by Hamas, which is worse. And there is no assurance that a sovereign PLO state will not invite foreign troops to ‘defend’ it, or be ‘unable to prevent’ terrorism against Israel by ‘dissident’ factions. The withdrawal from Gaza should be a clear warning.

Those who argue for withdrawal insist that there would have to be meaningful security guarantees, perhaps international forces stationed in the territories. But there is no track record in the Middle East for the success of such an arrangement. Think of the MLF in the Sinai that departed at Nasser’s command, or the UNIFIL that failed to prevent the rearming of Hizballah, and mostly complains about Israeli reconnaissance flights  over Lebanon.

If there’s no security, then there will be no Jewish state, regardless of demographics. And I will add that an argument which mentions ‘civil rights’ for Palestinian Arabs but does not mention terrorism or security for Jews is dishonest.

Second, the argument doesn’t take into account the reality of expelling hundreds of thousands of Israelis who live in the territories (the number is close to half a million if you include eastern Jerusalem — which the Arabs and many on the Left do). When 8,000 Jews were removed from Gaza, it created a social disaster. Some of them have still not found permanent housing, and all of them are furious at the government for the way their compensation was handled (or not handled). The resources simply do not exist, not in Israel and not in the US, to provide for hundreds of thousands of new Jewish refugees. Politically, it would tear the country wide open.

Third, withdrawal would be an Israeli concession of something concrete in return for words. Once the land is evacuated, it will almost certainly not be reoccupied. If the PLO does not live up to its end of the bargain, or if the regime is replaced by one even more hostile, it cannot easily be undone.

Fourth, a withdrawal represents a surrender of the principle that Jews have the right to live anywhere in the historical Land of Israel. This right, recognized in the Mandate, has always been disputed by the Arabs. If Israel withdraws from Gush Etzion, eastern Jerusalem, Hevron, and other places where Jews lived before 1948 (from which they were ethnically cleansed by Arab pogroms or Jordanian soldiers), what guarantees the right of Jews to live west of the 1949 armistice lines either?

Fifth, the integration of the Israeli-Arab population is a very difficult proposition. Although some might suggest that the increasing radicalization of the Arab citizens of Israel is due to ‘occupation’, a consideration of their own proposals for change — some of which were produced by the NIF-funded groups Adallah and the Mossawa center — indicates that while they may use the words “civil rights” they are in fact demanding national rights, demands which would end the Jewishness of the state if they were implemented. These ‘Palestinized’ Israeli Arabs are not moving in the direction of greater cooperation with Israeli Jews, and it’s reasonable to suppose that an Israeli surrender to the PLO (this is how they would see it) would encourage them to greater radicalism, not less.

Indeed, it’s obvious that part of the Arab strategy, after a state in the territories is obtained, is to leverage the issue of ‘civil rights’ for Israeli Arabs (along with the refugee issue, of course) to “de-Zionize” Israel.

Finally, the argument assumes that the only alternatives are 1) nearly full withdrawal from the territories or 2) retention of  all the land, including the Arab population. But it is possible to separate the Jewish and Arab populations with minimal compromises to security by withdrawing only from part of the territories.

The proponents of the demographic argument will say that all of the above are separate, unrelated questions that can be dealt with. The imperative is to get rid of the territories, they say. But if getting rid of them is impossible or sure to be disastrous, and entails waiving the Jewish people’s right to self-determination in the Middle East, then a different solution to the demographic problem must be found. And there are other solutions.

I see the objective of a solution to be an Israel containing as many Jews and as few Arabs as possible, with no compromise in security. Since nothing is more disruptive than forced population transfer, every effort should be made to keep as many people, Jews and Arabs alike, in their homes (although the Left abhors the idea of transfer for Arabs, calling it ‘racist’ or ‘Kahanist’, it seems to have little trouble in recommending it for Jews).

With this in mind, let’s look at a different proposal for solving the demographic and security problems.

Approximately 95% of the Arab population of Judea/Samaria live under PA control in ‘area A’ and ‘area B’. Most of the Jewish residents live in the so-called ‘settlement blocs’, most of which are contiguous with or quite close to the Green Line. So I propose that we finally replace the arbitrary armistice line with a rational partition:

  1. Israel should annex the settlement blocs and areas that are critical for security (e.g., the Jordan Valley and the ‘high ground’ overlooking Israel’s heartland). Some places of great religious, historical or psychological importance for the Jewish people should be included as well.
  2. Land swaps should be implemented wherever possible to reduce the Arab population of Israel. For example, the so-called “Arab triangle” around Umm al-Fahm could be placed under Palestinian sovereignty.

Both of these ideas are entirely unacceptable to the Palestinians, so they would have to be accomplished unilaterally.

I understand that some would consider it unfair or unjust to ignore the wishes of the Palestinians. But we can’t lose sight of the fact that the goal of all of the Palestinian leadership, the PLO/Fatah, Hamas, and Marwan Barghouti (may he stay in jail), as well as the Palestinian in the street (according to numerous polls), is simply to destroy the Jewish state and establish an Arab state in its place. Historical precedent indicates that the position of Jews in such a state — those that did not flee and remained alive — would be far, far worse than the condition of Israeli Arabs today (who are probably treated better in Israel than any minority, especially Palestinians, anywhere in the Arab world).

Certainly a negotiated settlement leading to real coexistence would be preferable, in some alternate universe. But here on our earth, Palestinian Arab policy, ideology and psychology have left no room for anything other than unilateral actions leading to separation, and to an armed and vigilant truce.

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2 Responses to “Answering the demographic argument”

  1. Shalom Freedman says:

    I agree wholeheartedly with your proposal regarding the disposition of the land. All areas heavily populated by Jews should be part of Israel. Heavily populated Arab areas should belong to the Arab entity, whatever it is.
    The problem as you indicated is that the other side will never accept this. Neither will the world.
    Thus the logical and right thing to do to make a ‘peace’ of a kind cannot be done.
    The prospect thus remains for long- time no resolution of the conflict.

  2. NormanF says:

    The demographic argument is a red herring. Israel will never annex Areas A and B on the West and Gaza. The annexation of Ara C – 60% of the West Bank which is home to nearly all the Jewish population and an Arab minority would push Israel boundary up to the Jordan River. This move can be accomplished without Arab consent. It would give Israel strategic defense in depth and also give Israel sovereignty over all the places important to Jewish history, culture and faith. The argument Israel has to also annex the Arabs is a false one. Other solutions can be found for them.

    In our dangerous world, territory for peace is both suicidal and a fool’s errand. Israel’s security cannot and should not be placed in the hands of an Arab regime that can literally disappear overnight. And as we have seen – Egyptian popular hostility to the peace treaty with Israel is a profound lesson that no political arrangements can last forever. Israel has to prepare for the worst – and this applies with equal force once the Palestinians abrogate Oslo this month.