Prime Minister Olmert's recent state visits once again brought to the fore demographobia– the illogical fear of Palestinian demographics – as the central claim for Israel to set final borders. But this fear is fundamentally flawed.
Again and again Olmert says that giving up geography is the only way to safeguard Jewish demography. Olmert's determination to pull out of Jewish land in Judea and Samaria – he, too, says these areas have historical and security significance – does not mean he has caved in to Palestinian terror or American pressure. He proved his willingness to bow to terrorism and pressure by supporting Netanyahu in 1996 and Sharon in 2001, as well as during election campaigns for the mayoralty of Jerusalem.
No, now he's inspired to pullout because of demographics. But he's using greatly exaggerated numbers provided by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics back in 1998. Israel accepted these numbers without benefit of any demographic, media or diplomatic research into their veracity, and they have since become the cornerstone of an intense campaign that has penetrated deep in to the consciousness of Israel's policy makers and public.
The reality, of course, is a bit different that Palestinian predictions of almost a decade ago: The Central Bureau of Statistics says there has been a rise in the number of Jewish births inside the green line, from 80,400 in 1995 to 105,181 in 2005. At the same time, Palestinian births have remained relatively constant at about 40,000 over the same period, and have dropped (particularly in the Muslim community) to around 36,000 since the start of 2006.
According to research conducted by the Gallup (USA) organization in March, 2006, the gap between Jewish and Arab fertility rates has dropped quickly because young Arabs are aspiring to fewer children, and young Jews are aspiring to more. Furthermore, research shows that fertility rates in practice are beginning to reflect this trend.
There is, however, a demographic threat, but the demographic sword is not hanging over the head over a long-term Jewish majority. For example, the annual percentage of Jewish population growth is greater than Arab growth in Judea and Samaria (2.1 percent to 1.8 percent from 1997 to 2004).
Of course, Muslim fertility inside the green line has dropped from 9.23 children per woman between 1960-64 to 4.36 children per woman in 2004. In the overall Arab community there are less than four children per woman.
The momentum of Jewish fertility grows when we weigh in immigration factors (a rise in immigrants, minus for émigrés), or some 20,000 people since 2001. But the prophets of demographic doom ignore this phenomenon, choosing to base their predictions on outdated fertility statistics.
Prime Minister Olmert is convinced that time is working against us, and that Jews will soon become a minority between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. Therefore, he says demographic considerations take on greater significance than geographic or topographical concerns with regard to Israel's national security.
Paradoxically, Zionism pushed off demographobia when Jews were a minority of just eight percent (Theodor Herzl -1900), 33 percent (Ben-Gurion – 1947). Now that Jews have a 60 percent majority in the Land of Israel (67 percent not counting Gaza), we are caving in.
The demographic reality rebuts this demographic fatalism. It is testimony that the Zionist leaders were right in pushing to create a country despite the massive security, economic and demographic difficulties they faced at first.
Now, when the Jewish majority has reached a critical mass, and is backed up by unprecedented military, economic and technological strength, demographobia simply has no place. We certainly must not sacrifice valuable territories on a demographic altar that is flawed at the most basic level.
Yoram Ettinger is a Middle East expert and a former consul general of New York. He participated in a study of Palestinian demographics at the Begin-Sadat Center this year