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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
We can all play with figures, even with facts.
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
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
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.