Where is the demographic problem?

The "demographic problem" is feared by many Israelis even more than the bomb that Iran is apparently making. It is one of the excuses that PM Ariel Sharon gives to the citizens of Israel, and particularly to his friends from the Likud, to explain disengagement: one of the main reasons that led him to decide to withdraw unilaterally from Gaza and northern Sinai and to destroy 26 settlements.

Why an "excuse"? Because the demographic problem that arouses such fear in the hearts of Israel’s Jewish citizens simply does not exist in the areas from which Jews are to be uprooted, i.e., the Gaza Strip and northern Samaria.

True, one and a quarter million Arabs live in the Gaza Strip, and another million and a half in areas A and B in Judea and Samaria–perhaps more, depending on whom you ask. There is currently a debate among demographers over the question whether there are 3.5 million Palestinians in the territories–the claim of the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, accepted by most Israeli demographers–or "only" 2.5 million, as argued by a new study published by Israeli and American researchers. As far as the "demographic problem" is concerned, the debate is pointless. When the Palestinian Authority was established in Gaza and in areas A and B of Judea and Samaria it took de facto responsibility over these territories. Insofar as they are populated by the declared citizens of the PA who vote for its institutions, the debate over demography in these areas is irrelevant from the standpoint of the demographic future of the state of Israel.

Some 96 percent of the Arabs in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza are citizens of the PA. Only four percent, or about 160,000 people, live in area C where Israel retains full control, including responsibility for the welfare of its inhabitants. Even if these 160,000 were to be given the right to vote in Israel, they would not endanger the Jewish majority in Israel.

All the Palestinians who live in areas A and B vote in the PA, not in Israel. Recently they elected Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) president of Palestine. Had Abu Mazen not been so scared of Hamas, they would now be preparing to vote for their parliament. These voters are proud Palestinian citizens; they do not want to be citizens of Israel, which, for its part, doesn’t want them as citizens. That’s why Israel withdrew in 1994 from the Palestinian population concentrations and agreed to forego its claims there, especially the claim to sovereignty.

The heart of the "demographic problem" is not the existence of Arabs alongside Jews. The real danger is posed by Arabs becoming the majority of voters in Israel. As a majority inside Israel they would alter the nature of the state and it would cease to be a Jewish polity. This is the primary reason that even those known as the "peace camp", i.e., the Israeli left that is prepared to give up territory and settlements, resolutely oppose the "right of return".

Ariel Sharon knows perfectly well that there is no demographic problem in the territories. Certainly his advisers know, as do the Israeli political and media elites. Because they support the flight from Gaza and northern Samaria, they persist in using this false argument. Yet these same people who are inflicting the demographic argument on a nervous Israeli public are trying to hide the real demographic problem, the one that does indeed exist. Yes, there is a "demographic problem", but it lurks within the state of Israel, not in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip.

On May 11, 2005, the eve of Israel’s independence day, the Israel Central Bureau of Statistics published the country’s demographic profile, as it does every year on this occasion. According to these data the fertility of an Arab woman in Israel is 2.5 times that of a Jewish woman. Arabs currently constitute some 20 percent of the citizens of Israel. This means that within a few decades, if there is no dramatic change in the reproductive patterns of Arabs and Jews in Israel, the Arab citizens of Israel will draw equal in number with the Jews, thereby bringing about the end of the Jewish state.

The leaders of those who oppose fleeing the Qatif Bloc of settlements in Gaza are certainly familiar with these data, yet they have not made good use of them to reduce the level of public support for Sharon’s plan. Had they done so, it may have changed the minds of many Jews who today support fleeing because they really fear that the Arabs of Gaza will vote for the Knesset unless the Jews leave.

After all, if this is not a question of demographic "salvation", why give the Arabs the impression that they have won the terror war–an impression that will whip up their motivation for another such war, one no less brutal and lethal than the one we have experienced for the past four and a half years.