For several years now, a war of demographers has been going on in our midst. The rivals are quarreling over the number of Palestinians living between the Jordan River and Mediterranean Sea and about their population growth projections. The argument that the balance is tilting against the Jews serves disengagement fans. The argument that the opposite is true boosts those in favor of annexation.
Ehud Barak is part of the former group. In his speech at the Herzliya Conference, he said that 12 million people reside between the Jordan River and Mediterranean Sea. Holding on to this entire territory and controlling the Arab population living there will present us with a choice between the Jewish state’s demise and the imposition of an apartheid regime, he said.
The figure quoted by the minister is puzzling. Israel’s population at this time is 7.5 million, including 1.5 million Arabs. Hence, the Arab population in Judea, Samaria and Gaza must be 4.5 million, according to Barak. If we add the number of Israeli Arabs to this figure we’ll discover that the Jewish and Arab populations are equal at this time already. Something is wrong with the math.
Israel’s citizens are counted by the Central Bureau of Statistics. Its findings are credible. The CBS does not count the number of Arabs in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza. The figures about them are mostly taken from Palestinian sources; however, even the Palestinians, who are interested in boosting the demographic genie, do not claim a population of 4.5 million. According to the Palestinian central bureau of statistics, the accurate number is 3.8 million.
This figure is accepted by Professor Arnon Sofer, the most outspoken of the “generous demographers.” On the other hand, the “stingy demographers,” and mostly a group whose most prominent spokesman is former diplomat Yoram Ettinger, claim that the real figure is 2.5 million. The gap between both estimates is about 1.3 million people. It is clear that at least one of the sides uses its expertise to promote its political views.
Questions for both sidesYet this is just the basis for the disagreement, which focuses on the future rather than the present. In order to make good predictions, one needs to know not only the current situation but also the trends. Estimates of future birthrates, life expectancy, and expected migration are premised on precedents, but also on fears and wishes.
Arnon Sofer, who believes that the Arabs already hold a small majority, warns that a long time will pass before Arab birthrates decline; hence, he says, the Jews will constitute only 40% of the population in the disputed land within a few years.
Yes his rivals reach wholly different conclusions: Arab birthrates are declining rapidly and will eventually equal Jewish birthrates. At the same time, the emigration rates of Palestinians from the Land of Israel will grow. The Jews will increase their weight in the population pie, as they have done since the Zionist movement’s establishment.
I will not decide who is right, as demographic calculations are beyond my abilities, and also as I still recall Thomas Malthus’ famous warning. The 19th Century priest declared that humanity’s population growth is faster than its ability to provide food for itself. His false prediction affected the social thinking of several generations.
Even demographic explanations provided in retrospect are not rock solid. For example, we are still unable to explain the leap in the number of Jews from the end of the Middle Ages to the beginning of the previous century.
There are other reasons why demographic predictions help neither partition fans nor their opponents. The following are questions for the opponents: Let’s assume that the Jewish majority in the Land of Israel will be maintained in the future, will this demographic reality spare us the need to partition the land? Will a Jewish democratic state be maintained when 40% of its parliament members are Palestinian? Is it possible to avoid the establishment of a Palestinian state even if only a large majority of the population between the Jordan River and Mediterranean Sea is Palestinian?
Meanwhile, the question to partition fans is very short: Is it still possible to partition the land?