Opponents of Israel’s legal and historical rights to Judea and Samaria raise a powerful and persuasive argument: Israel faces a “demographic crisis;” the Arab population between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River will soon outnumber that of the Jews, and the nature of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state is in danger. They argue, therefore, that Israel must withdraw from what was known, under Jordanian occupation, as the “West Bank,” (to distinguish it from Jordan’s “East Bank”), including “eastern Jerusalem,” the Old City and Temple Mount, and create a second Arab Palestinian state (after Jordan); the Golan Heights, in this plan, would revert to Syria. This, they argue, would avoid charges of “occupation,” “oppression,” “racism,” “apartheid,” etc.; it does not relate to Palestinian Arabs who are Israeli citizens, or the “Nakba,” (Catastrophe) in 1948, Israel’s creation and what Palestinians consider “occupation.”
The “demographic argument” was used to convince former PM Yitzhak Rabin to agree to the Oslo Accords, and was promoted by the dominant left-wing media, former PMs Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert, Israeli ministers and politicians, and PM Netanyahu. There’s only one problem: it’s a myth, part of a campaign to destroy the settlement movement; it has been thoroughly refuted by various studies, including Bar-Ilan University’s The Million Person Gap and work undertaken by The Institute for Zionist Strategies,
The fact is that today, nearly all non-Israeli Palestinians living in Judea, Samaria and Gaza are under the PA. The Gaza Strip, under Hamas, a designated terrorist organization, is a separate entity, with its own army and administration, supported by the PA, but opposed to its controlling group, Fatah. “The occupation,” therefore, at least that since 1967, refers to territory, not people.
The legal status of the area is disputed and has never been adjudicated by a court of law. Organizations like the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the UN and EU, political groups, and governments regard the area as “occupied” by Israel, without determining to whom it belongs; the question of its sovereignty is moot, subject to negotiation.
According to the Oslo Accords, Judea and Samaria was divided into three regions: A (under total PA control); B (under PA civilian control); C (under Israeli control). No Jews reside in areas A and B (comprising an estimated million-and-a-half residents); all Jewish communities/settlements (over 300,000 Jews) are in area C, along with about a few tens of thousands of Arab Palestinians (there are no accurate figures). In addition, over 200, 000 Jews live in new neighborhoods of Jerusalem established after 1967; these areas have already been virtually annexed.
There’s no crisis
If the entire area of Judea and Samaria is considered as a single unit, the demographic argument looks overwhelming. But, when the areas are separated – viewing area C alone, as distinctly Jewish – the perspective is quite different; there is no demographic threat.
Similarly, large concentrations of Arabs reside in pre-1967 Israel, primarily in the Negev and the Galilee. Looking at the entire population between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River, using the demographic argument, the situation looks grim, with Jews and Arabs almost equal. When the areas are seen as discrete, however, the perspective changes, and the alleged demographic threat dissipates.
The argument that withdrawal is necessary to “preserve Israel’s Jewish character,” moreover, is vague, and contradicts the support for including hundreds of thousands of non-Jews, Arabs, Africans, and others seeking to live in Israel. Concern for the humanitarian rights of illegal immigrants seems to trump maintaining Israel’s Jewish identity.
Moreover, an estimated several hundreds of thousands of immigrants from the former Soviet Union who are not Jewish, many with no connection to Judaism, were given citizenship. Although many of them serve in the IDF and have applied for conversion, this is a controversial issue between those who expect sincere commitment according to Jewish law, and those who demand less, or none at all.
In other words, demographic arguments, including questions like, “Who is a Jew?” and “What is Israelism?” are complicated societal issues which cannot be resolved, or understood by simplistic notions, manipulating statistics, and hyping scare tactics.
There is no crisis, nor urgency to abandon Judea and Samaria in order to save the State of Israel. In fact, given realistic assessments of the threat a Palestinian state poses to Israel, the most reasonable solution is to leave things as they are.
The author is an historian, writer and journalist living in Jerusalem