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Israel – Demographic Superpower

Israel – Demographic Superpower

The demographic argument against Israel is overstated. Contrary to what commonly is believed, the non–Jewish population in the West Bank is not growing so rapidly that Israel’s Jewish majority is threatened:

Respected Israeli demographer Yoram Ettinger wisely warns: “Beware of Palestinians Bearing Demographic Numbers.” His data indicate that the PCBS has inflated the number of West Bank Arabs from 1.6 million to 2.5 million. 

Its estimate includes more than 400,000 overseas residents, the double counting of Jerusalem Arabs, under reporting of Palestinian emigration, and exaggerated birth statistics. But Palestinian distortions are catnip for Zionist “demographers of doom.”

Ettinger’s calculations indicate that Jews now comprise 17% of the West Bank population. Between the Jordan and Mediterranean, 66% of the population is Jewish. Ever since 1995, Arab birth rates have stabilized while the annual number of Jewish births has risen significantly. “There is a demographic problem Ettinger recognizes, “but there is no demographic machete at the throat of the Jewish state.”

There are other reasons why Israel should reach a territorial compromise in the West Bank, but the demographic threat is not the first among them.

Going beyond that, Israel may actually be the demographic superpower in the region. So argues this article, Israel as Middle Eastern hegemon:

Like the vanishing point in a perspective painting, long-term projections help us order our perceptions of what we see in front of us today. Here’s one to think about, fresh from the just-released update of the United Nations’ population forecasts: At constant fertility, Israel will have more young people by the end of this century than either Turkey or Iran, and more than German, Italy or Spain.

The article includes this chart:

A growing demographic power which recently has discovered enormous oil and natural gas reserves.  Now all Israel has to do is survive.


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I would be careful about this one Prof. Jacobson. I think that the article is generally correct the the demographers with a vested interest in overstating the West Bank non-Jewish Squatters (there’s no such nationality as a Palestinian) because it increases their bargaining power. On the other hand though there’s a really big question as to ‘why’ the population of the West Bank Squatters has stabilized.

There’s a simple idea in animal population statistical modeling for understanding environmental impact of changes: that a population of a particular animal in a given area will consume all the resources it can to grow until it is stabilized by an outside influence acting upon it. This concept is why I have, in other places, claimed that we can never “solve” the problem of starvation in Africa. Anytime and every time that we add additional food supplies, the population will grow accordingly because the outside constraint on population growth has been removed (it isn’t limited to the African Continent, but that is the most visible example). I’m willing to bet that at least some of the same constraints are present here.

I’m willing to put money on the fact that it’s because they have been under a state of conflict, and had somewhat more limited supplies support (food, medical, etc…) and that their population has grown to the size that the incoming supplies can support. If that artificial constraint were to be removed (either by granting statehood to the region or by incorporation into Israel via full Annexation, I think it highly likely that there would be a non-Jewish population boom from the sudden influx of supplies and increased medical care to those currently not receiving it.

It’s telling that 1995 is a key date for the population stabilizing. I’m also willing to bet that part of the reason that the population has stabilized is that the PLO, and now the Palestinian Authority started to assert control over the West Bank in 1995. That control allows the PA to control the flow of supplies somewhat, making sure that the PA “government,” security forces, and administrators (who are likely to have a higher education and lower family birth rate) are directed more food resources.

Final point in all this is that Israel’s population is unlikely to stay constant in terms of fertility for much longer. Israel is starting to become a mature economy, where fertility rates have a tendency to start to taper off. The discovery of oil and gas reserves will help stave off that tapering off by adding resources, but I think in the next 20-30 years Israel will likely see its fertility rates (or at least its birth rate) drop as it becomes a fully matured state.

Sorry, the Above first line should read: I think that the article is generally correct ABOUT the demographers HAVING a vested interest ….

Chuck Skinner, I have to disagree with your statement that Israel, as it becomes a mature economy, will see its fertility rates drop. I don’t think you have taken into account the large percentage of Orthodox Jews (not necessarily ultra-Orthodox) who have very high birth rates irrespective of the size of the economy. I am talking about the young modern Orthodox families who have at minimum 6 children, and this trend shows no sign of slowing.

I can give my own family as an example: my daughter has had 5 children in 9 years, my son has had 3 children in 3 years. Both they and their spouses are university educated and have good jobs. Both live in settlements. Neither are exceptions in their towns or amongst their friends and former class-mates.

This birth-rate appears, in a somewhat smaller scale, amongst the secular Israelis too. It is not unusual to find secular (non-religious) Jewish Israeli families with 4 or 5 children, and if the economy matures and improves, I see this birthrate only growing,not shrinking, as more resources become available to raise more children.

Chuck – you’re half right.

During the 30+ years that Israel controlled the West Bank, it brought electricity, running water, and healthcare to its Arab residents – and offered good jobs in Israel’s burgeoning construction and agriculture sectors. This resulted in net (illegal) immigration of tens of thousands of Jordanians annually.

SO: this is the only “oppressive occupation” known to actually draw wetbacks.

This trend has been reversed since the Palestinian Authority brought back Arab-style kleptocracy. The “government in exile” that returned with Arafat quickly shook down the local Pali population, and skimmed off lots of the incoming aid. A lot of Pali money was sent overseas to relatives in Detroit and other Arab enclaves, to keep it from being confiscated. So: little economic growth.

In addition, Pali violence and terror attacks led to the exclusion of West Bank Arabs from the Israeli economy.

The resulting stagnation and decreased living standards have increased emigration – especially among young people.

Right now the PA and Hamas are being propped up by international aid. As even the most dunderheaded EU anti-semite realized that the peace process is dead – and that the Palis offer no political leverage – it’s likely that the funding will diminish.

The Arabs never ponied up major sums for their Pali brethren, and are unlikely to pick up the slack now given the unrest in the region (and the economic toll it will take on most Arab countries – Egypt’s embrace of the Muslim Brotherhood has already lost it much of its tourist income for the foreseeable future).

So it is likely that Pali emigration will accelerate, and birth rates will fall as the population ages.

Right now the emigration rate is being kept artificially LOW by political pressure limiting the number of visa that are issued. Almost every day long lines form at the East Jerusalem embassies of Canada, Australia, and other destination countries. The number of visas issued is much less than demand.

If Hamas or Hezbolla really does start another war with Israel, it is likely that more visas will be granted, and others will simply flee to Jordan – leaving Israel in a better position demographically.

Hi Anneinpt and Ben David –

Anneinpt – Thanks for letting me know about the high Orthodox birth rates. What I was considering was more historical experience with maturing economies, but that can be moderated via particular religious view on large family size. It’s entirely possible that Israel will buck the trend line.

Ben David – I concur that a war with Hamas or Hezbollah would likely speed up emigration, and the current emigration rate, even artifically low, is keeping the population rate down. I’m more worried about what (at least short term) peace does.

What I was kind of getting at was that part of the “anti-annexation” argument about the West Bank and Gaza Strip has always been “it would change the nature of the Jewish State of Israel” because suddenly the Squatters would be Israelis and then would “out birth” the Jewish Israelis, taking over the country through elections in 15 to 20 years via population growth. The mentioned article seems to be indicating that this would not be the case, but we don’t have the detail as to the “WHY” it is not the case.

There were two sides of what I was concerned about: Annexation or Separate Statehood.

If the territories are annexed, the Squatters become Israelis, and get food, medical care, etc… that causes the population to start to grow (and the emigration rate will probably drop somewhat, as the potential jobs open up and the newly minted Israelis can engage in commerce without all the security apparatus). Thus, rising standard of living leads to increased birth rates and less infant mortality.

The other side of it is Separate Statehood, with the ability to engage in commerce with the surrounding countries (even though currently in economic turmoil) will still lead to a rising standard of living through availability of goods and services currently unavailable (although, I’m not sure what the Israelis are going to do to stop weapons from being openly shipped in either, but that’s a different discussion). But, again, rising standard of living, higher birth rate and lower infant mortality (probably slower than annexation due to having to get all the equipment and facilities up to scratch).

Regarding the analysis in general, this is a problem that I have with a LOT of analysis done. It is almost all “static” analysis, it only looks at the now, and assumes that if you change one thing, that everything else will stay exactly the same. Rarely do analysts make any sort of even vague suggestions of what would happen if different variables changed as a result of one change as to what the outcomes would be in the near future because most of them think that’s just too hard to estimate, and they consider themselves “too pure” of science to make any sort of prediction that can’t be absolutely proven and reproduced on paper.

If the territories are annexed, the Squatters become Israelis, and get food, medical care, etc… that causes the population to start to grow
– – – – – – – – – – – – – –
Not any more. Decades of Pali violence have taught Israelis that annexation without repatriation is a dead end – in fact we have already seen terror attacks by Israeli Arabs, under the influence of the “peace” process and intifadas.

The likely scenario now is Israel large, sparsely populated areas of the West Bank in response to Pali attack, or unilateral declaration of Pali statehood.

Remaining pockets of Pali population will be even worse off economically than before – and Israel will likely accelerate its settlement activity. Many Palis will likely choose emigration or repatriation to Jordan.

The other option you propose:
The other side of it is Separate Statehood, with the ability to engage in commerce with the surrounding countries (even though currently in economic turmoil) will still lead to a rising standard of living
– – – – – – – – – – – – – –
Well, no. It will lead to the corruption and resulting poverty that are endemic to the Arab world.

And it’s likely that European and Arab donor states will use statehood as an excuse for cutting aid – leaving Palestine with little resources or capital. Federation with Jordan – another beggar state – would merely spread the misery.

And again – the likely Israeli response will be annexation of sparsely populated areas, which includes agriculture and water resources.

– – – – – –

It’s increasingly clear that the demographic threat is a bugaboo. In every likely scenario, time is on Israel’s side.

Any Israeli annexation of Judea and Samaria would not come with automatic citizenship for their Arab residents. The assumption that Israel must forever apply jus soli has no basis; plenty of European countries don’t grant automatic citizenship just for being born there, so there’s no reason Israel must. Arab residents of annexed territories can keep whatever citizenship they had before (or remain stateless persons with white passports as before), and be treated as legal aliens, with the same rights that legal aliens have in the USA and the EU: i.e. the right to live peacefully so long as they obey the law, but subject to deportation if they commit a crime or engage in hostile activity.

If I were Israeli PM I would also divert half the budget which is devoted to encouraging overseas Jews to immigrate, into a parallel program to encourage local non-Jews to emigrate. Any non-Jew who is a legal resident or citizen of Israel, and who is willing to emigrate, would be eligible for a yeridah package equal in value to the aliyah package granted Jewish immigrants. Jewish Agency offices overseas, in addition to their current job of recruiting Jewish immigrants, would be turned into absorption agencies for non-Jewish emigrants, helping them settle in to their new countries and their new lives.

That should take care of the so-called “demographic problem”.