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PostScript: Go figure!
By HIRSH GOODMAN
05/11/2012
There is strong security logic to holding on to the West Bank, but there are consequences for the Jewishness of Israel and its democracy.
 
It was said last week at the Jerusalem Post Conference in New York – to wild applause – that it would be better for Israel to hold on to Judea and Samaria, and control the Palestinians, than have a terrorist Palestinian state on its doorstep.

The speaker went on to say that contrary to common wisdom, there are a million less Palestinians living in the West Bank than assumed. This misconception has led to a sense of defeatism among Jews, the speaker continued, leaving one to assume that any talk of a demographic threat to Israel if it held on to the territories was poppycock, contrived and intended to cower Israel into making territorial concessions, when there was no need to do so.

No source was given for these numbers, but people like former diplomat and fervent one-state solution supporter Yoram Ettinger have been doing mental arithmetic for years, making all sorts of demographic assumptions that allow Israel to keep hold of and annex all of the territories it conquered in 1967, including Gaza, and still be a majority of 57 percent Jews, which he claims is growing all the time.

We should only be so lucky.

The assumption that a Palestinian state may be a terror state has solid roots in recent history though, one could argue, the Palestinian regime on the West Bank is vastly different to Hamas in Gaza which rejects any recognition of Israel.

The Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, on the other hand, has renounced violence, accepted a two-state solution on the 1967 borders with equitable land exchanges, has cooperated with Israel on security issues and, overall, swallowed Israeli settlement expansion with commendable diplomatic constraint.

They have a relatively open government, fledgling democracy, a 92.4% literacy rate, about 8% annual economic growth and a life expectancy of 75.24 years, by far the highest in the Arab world, and not something that they are going to throw away quickly.

That said, there are dangers involved in an independent Palestinian state with its eastern borders open to the Arab world, it being only a skip and a hop into Israel proper, or to a hill overlooking Ben-Gurion Airport with a rocket launcher. There are those risks, and they make powerful arguments for those who prefer one state controlled by Israel to possible peace based on territorial compromise with the Palestinians.

One can bemoan this world view as depressing, mono-dimensional and the product of pessimism spiced with historical vindication, but there is, at least, some logic to the argument. To add to this, however, a statement that the official statistics are wrong, that there are a million less Palestinians in the territories than claimed, and that this misconception is at the root of Israeli weakness and defeatism is patently absurd. It is also disingenuous and a poor excuse for those who want it all, but don’t have the gumption to look at the consequences.

These are the basic facts as taken from the CIA handbook and current to right now: The population of the West Bank is 2,662,544.

About 2.45 million of them, 86%, are Palestinians.

The median age is 21.3 years, with 35.8% of the population under age of 14.

Overall population growth on the West Bank is 2.063%, with 24.19 births per 1,000, with the number of births per mother 2.98.

Israel’s population is 7.59 million which is, without the territories, 76.4% Jewish.

Despite the commendable efforts of Israel’s haredi and national-religious communities, Israeli mothers produce 2.67 children each, with 18.97 births per 1000, giving Israel a population growth of 1.541%, significantly less than that of the Palestinians on the West Bank, not to mention Gaza. Israel’s population is also older, with a median age of 29.4 years, and with only 27.6% of the population under age 14.

Another piece of bad news, probably not taken into account by the One-State-Demographers, is that 22.9% of Israeli adults are obese, making the Jewish state the 15th fattest nation on earth which, while not healthy, does help make sense of why we need more room.

We can all play with figures, even with facts.

There is strong security logic to holding on to the West Bank, but there are consequences for the Jewishness of Israel and its democracy.

These are issues one has to look at straight in the face, not evade through wishful thinking or artful arithmetical manipulation.

Demographics are not the issue. Ironically, the Palestinians are not the issue. What is at stake is the very nature of Israel itself, a valid and worthwhile debate. It is certainly time the problem was resolved one way or another, but in the meantime those Israelis who do not want a Palestinian state on the country’s borders may find themselves with an entire Palestinian people on their doorstep.

That, one day, the world will say: “you want them, you got them,” and withdraw all international aid the Palestinians now receive, leaving Israel to foot the bill for health, education and all the rest that comes with millions of people with an average age of 21.3 years, 14 years of education and 46.9% unemployment.

Then work out the figures.

The writer is a senior research associate at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University. His latest book, The Anatomy of Israel’s Survival, won the National Jewish Book Award in the History category for 2011.
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