Reports of Israel’s losing the demographic war to the growing Palestinian population have been exaggerated, according to Yoram Ettinger, chairman of special projects at Israel’s Ariel Center for Policy Research.
“While there is a demographic challenge posed by the large Arab minority, that problem is not lethal and, moreover, the demographic tailwind is Jewish and not Arab,” Ettinger said Monday during a phone interview with The Jewish Standard. “Namely, the future bodes well for a robust, long-term Jewish majority.”
Ettinger, formerly the minister for congressional affairs in Israel’s Washington embassy, will speak about the demographic situation at the Jewish Center of Teaneck on Friday night and Saturday. He headed an American-Israel Demographic Research Group study released last year, which he said shows that declines in Arab birthrates, increases in Jewish birthrates, and a rise in Arab emigration from the west bank will preserve the Jewish majority west of the Jordan River.
“The conventional wisdom is that Jews are doomed to become a minority eventually between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean,” he said. “However, reality suggests that anybody who claims that Israel has to concede geography in order to secure Jewish demography is either dramatically mistaken or outrageously misleading.”
According to the study, Arab emigration from the west bank and Gaza numbered about 25,000 in 2007, just as it did in 2006. The Jewish fertility rate in Israel is 2.8 births per woman and that number is increasing, Ettinger said. The rise in births does not come from the haredi sector, either. Ettinger credited secular immigrants from the former Soviet Union who are departing from the typical Russian fertility rate of one birth per woman.
The Arab birthrate, meanwhile, has dropped from a six-birth lead over the Jewish birthrate in 1969 to a gap of only 0.7 births in 2007.
“The bottom line is that there is a solid, long-term Jewish majority of 67 percent in 98.5 percent of the land west of the Jordan River, other than Gaza,” Ettinger said. “With Gaza, it’s a 60 percent majority, and this is in comparison with a tiny 8 percent minority in 1900 and a 33 percent minority in 1947.”
While the Palestinian Authority contends that the Arab population of the west bank numbers more than 2 million, Ettinger said his report recorded the population at 1.5 million. The discrepancy stems from Palestinian statistics that include Palestinians who have lived outside the territories for more than a year. International demographic standards exclude citizens who have lived outside the area in question for more than a year, he said.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has recently said that Israel must give up large swaths of land in the west bank in order for it to remain both a Jewish and democratic nation. The government is acting on what Ettinger called “demographic fatalism.”
“A 53 percent artificial inflation of the number is driving policy,” he said. “And when the assumption driving a policy is wrong, then the policy itself is wrong as well.”
While at the Jewish Center, Ettinger will also address the issue of Jerusalem. Like the general demographic issue, Jerusalem’s future is threatened by misinformation, he said.
“When it comes to Jerusalem, every statement about possible retreat from Jerusalem [or] Arab neighborhoods [there] is undermining Jewish demography in Jerusalem and dooming Jerusalem to continued economic decline,” he said.
Birth rates are not the problem for the Jewish capital, where Arab and Jewish birth rates balance out at 3.9 births. Rather, the city is a victim of Arab immigration and Jewish emigration. Each time Israel begins talking of giving up territory around Jerusalem, he said, Arabs move into areas they think will end up under Israeli sovereignty so they don’t have to give up the benefits of Israeli residency.
Economics is the key to solving the problem of Jewish emigration, he said. First, the city must create more affordable housing. Then it needs to enhance its infrastructure – such as building an international airport, a rail line from the coastal region, and another highway – so that the city is more appealing to entrepreneurs who can then create economic opportunities.
In order to make those improvements, he said, the city needs to expand by four or five times to the east. Although the government appears willing to discuss giving up sections of East Jerusalem and outlying neighborhoods, Ettinger is convinced that the Israeli people will not allow the government to concede territory.
“The Israeli public is much stronger than Israeli politicians,” he said. “The vast majority will not accept the repartitioning of Jerusalem.”
For more information on Ettinger’s visit, call (201) 833-0515.