b i t t e r l e m o n s. o r g
    July 4, 2005 Edition 23                       Palestinian-Israeli crossfire
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  The demographic factor
. Demography negates democracy        by Ghassan Khatib
Throughout the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, demography has been the focus of attention by the wrong people on the two sides.
  . It's demographic security, stupid        by Yossi Alpher
It's too bad Sharon cannot, or will not, say these things directly, emphatically, and repeatedly to the Israeli public.
. Demographic nationalism: false assumptions and inevitable truths        by Salim Tamari
Israel must recognize that ethnic hegemony is no longer acceptable in a post-colonial era.
  . Where is the demographic problem?        by Yisrael Harel
Ariel Sharon knows perfectly well that there is no demographic problem in the territories.

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Demography negates democracy
by Ghassan Khatib

Throughout the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, demography has been regarded as a crucial aspect by the wrong people on the two sides.

On the Israeli side, many Israelis wanted the land without the people. In convincing Jewish immigrants to move to Palestine, many of the leading founders of Israel used the argument that this was a land without people for a people without land. When they discovered that there were actually people living in this land, they pursued illegal, and in many cases criminal, acts in an effort to evacuate as much of that land as possible from its people.

Since then, the issue of demography has continued to be one of the major determining factors behind the positions and practices of successive Israeli leaderships. The significance of the demographic factor may have come from the Israeli desire to have "a pure Jewish state", i.e., a state clean of other races. Such a position, which could have been considered racist had it been used by others, was among the guiding principals behind many of Israel's main strategies--whether those strategies that we know because they have been revealed, or those that will be revealed in the future.

The most recent expression of demography as a force motivating Israeli strategies is the unilateral strategy of the current leadership headed by Ariel Sharon. A few years ago, in one of the famous Herziliya conferences, Sharon outlined demography as one of the major challenges facing Israel. He specified a number of unilateral measures aimed at dealing with that threat, the main one of which was getting 1.5 million Palestinians out of the equation through a unilateral disengagement of Israeli forces and settlers from the Gaza Strip. Unfortunately, this unilateral disengagement failed to represent a complete ending of the occupation in Gaza, because Israel seems to want to continue controlling the borders.

For a significant part of the Palestinians, demography is also an important component of the struggle. Many Palestinians, including some of the leaders, believe that one way to prevent the other side from achieving its objectives is to ensure a sizable Palestinian minority, and perhaps in the future a majority, in historic Palestine between the river and the sea. Other Palestinians view this Palestinian population growth as a problem, however, because it compromises people's quality of life and leads to increases in unemployment and poverty. For that reason, this remains a controversial issue among Palestinians.

Demography brought many Israelis and Palestinians to support an historical compromise alongside the 1967 borders, because this is a compromise that allows Israel to have a country with a clear Jewish majority. Israel's demographic problem will continue as long as there are no borders between it and the Palestinian masses to the east of the 1967 borders. The only way that Israel can resolve this problem is to allow for a Palestinian state.

Yet demography negates democracy. A human being is a human being, regardless of his religion or race. A focus on the quality rather than quantity of the populations in both Israel and Palestine is necessary in order to bring about better citizens: citizens who are more educated and are equipped with the kind of values that will enable the two sides to reach a compromise based on respect for one another's legitimate rights and recognition of international legality as a basis for compromise. The competition over population numbers will lead not only to deterioration in the social and economic situation of both sides, but also to a complication of the conflict between them. Both sides' efforts to continue increasing the size of their populations in this one land will only prolong the conflict and the suffering to which it gives rise.- Published 4/7/2005 (c) bitterlemons.org

Ghassan Khatib is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications. He is the Palestinian Authority minister of planning and has been a political analyst and media contact for many years.

It's demographic security, stupid
by Yossi Alpher

Why are we leaving the Gaza Strip? This seemingly innocuous question is at the heart of the Israeli public controversy over disengagement. Because so many Israelis don't have a clear idea as to the real rationale for the move, they are easy prey for the pumped-up religious, pioneering, and "democratic" themes of the settler lobby's anti-disengagement campaign.

Prime Minister Sharon, who co-opted the disengagement idea from the left and center, gave it political life, and galvanized majority support, has proven incredibly inarticulate in explaining it to the public. He cites political imperatives, meaning the need to preempt more far-reaching initiatives for territorial compromise. He describes the withdrawal from Gaza as a kind of redeployment of the settlements based on inescapable facts-on-the-ground. And here and there he offhandedly presents a laundry list of the benefits of disengagement, running from security via politics to demography.

Did he say demography? Ah, yes, somewhere at the back of his list is the fact that removing 7,000 Jewish settlers from Gaza and disentangling them from 1.3 million Palestinians offers Israel demographic benefits. Sharon apparently downplays demography because to highlight it would put the spotlight on his own central role of settling the West Bank and Gaza in the course of the past three decades, thereby creating the demographic problem in the first place.

In fact, demography is the only persuasive rationale for carrying out disengagement unilaterally. The political benefits are doubtful and problematic, certainly for Sharon: leaving Gaza is likely to increase rather than decrease pressures on Israel to withdraw from additional territories--witness the international community's insistence on viewing disengagement as a stage in the roadmap; and, by definition, there will be no Palestinian quid pro quo for our unilateral gesture.

Nor will disengagement necessarily generate military security gains: the benefits of no longer having to protect the Gaza settlements are liable to be balanced by the cost incurred in projecting, in the eyes of Palestinian militants, weakness by withdrawing and thereby encouraging a new round of terrorism in the West Bank. This judgment applies to the economic benefits, too: disengagement is good for Israel's economy only insofar as it is seen as part of a peace process and is followed by tranquility--neither of which is a sure bet.

Only demography is a sure bet, particularly if and when Israel completes the withdrawal by turning over the philadelphi strip to Palestinian and Egyptian security forces. This will mean 1.3 million fewer Palestinians under direct or indirect Israeli rule. It will stem our slide down the slippery slope toward the South Africanization of our conflict with the Palestinians. It will point us in the right direction toward ending direct and indirect occupation in the West Bank, too. It will show us the way out of the current brutalization of Israeli society. The demographic rationale overshadows all the other reasons, many of them doubtful, for disengagement, and justifies the move regardless of the possible drawbacks.

True, bearing in mind the current population ratio--an almost equal number of Arabs and Jews between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean, with the Arab population growing faster--withdrawal from Gaza is not enough. Indeed, even if the right wing revisionist demographers are right, and there are currently one million more Jews than Arabs between the river and the sea, there is no future for either people when 60 percent (Jews) rule directly and indirectly over the remaining 40 percent (Arabs) within a single geographic space in which the two populations have become interlocked thanks to Israeli settlements.

One could go even further, as some settler leaders do, and argue that the mere presence within Israel of the Palestinian citizens of Israel, currently 20 percent of the population but growing in relative size compared to rates of Jewish population growth, constitutes a demographic time bomb that will threaten Israel's capacity to remain a Jewish and a democratic state some 30 or 40 years from now. These settler leaders would have us believe that Palestinian autonomy (which they vehemently opposed) now constitutes genuine independence--hence the residents of the West Bank and Gaza are no longer a demographic threat to Israel's security.

But Palestinians are not independent unless they establish a recognized, sovereign state, or at least function like one. Until then we are legally their occupiers, and their demography is potentially our demography.

We have to start somewhere righting the demographic balance, and Gaza is the right place and the right precedent. The demographic rationale dictates that Gaza disengagement be followed by withdrawal from most of the West Bank, including the areas of Jerusalem where some 230,000 Palestinians dwell. Then we must find ways to rationalize the status of Israel's own Palestinian citizens as a national minority within a Jewish and democratic state--ways that generate prosperity and equality, thereby reducing birthrates. These remain huge challenges. But withdrawal from Gaza buys us precious time to deal with them, and for the first time since 1967 generates momentum in the right direction.

It's too bad Sharon cannot, or will not, say these things directly, emphatically, and repeatedly to the Israeli public. It's demographic security, stupid!- Published 4/7/2005 (c) bitterlemons.org

Yossi Alpher is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications. He is former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies and a former senior adviser to PM Ehud Barak.

Demographic nationalism: false assumptions and inevitable truths
by Salim Tamari

There are few issues in the current debate on the future of Palestine that evoke more passion than demographics--the distillation of ethnic politics into the realm of raw procreative strategies. And there are fewer issues with more false assumptions.

On the Israeli side the so-called demographic-territorial dilemma (that is, the need to devolve Israeli control over the occupied territories in order to preserve the Jewish character of the state) has been the central tenant of Labor Zionism. For the last three decades it has represented the essence of what distinguished Labor from the straightforward colonial policies of the Likud and its allies. For the latter, there has been no demographic dilemma since keeping the West Bank and Gaza entailed no potential enfranchisement of the Arab population ("they can vote in Jordan"), and therefore no infringement on conventional Zionist hegemony. That is, until Sharon's recent abandonment of this paradigm with his Gaza withdrawal plan.

For the Labor Party and its allies, on the other hand, an overriding motivation for reaching an accord with the Palestinians has been to reduce the Arab population in Israel to a minimum, creating optimal conditions for a manageable Palestinian minority. One can say that demographic hegemony, and not anti-colonial sentiment, has thus been the central factor driving the Israeli peace camp.

The Palestinians have adopted a reverse notion of demographic nationalism, in which procreation is seen as a weapon of the weak. Israel was envisioned as a crusading state which would be overwhelmed by Palestinian fertility. In the mid-seventies the Israeli government and the Ramallah-based In'ash al Usra Society both promised social aid to families with more than ten children. Golda Meir, then prime minister, was shocked to learn that the main beneficiary of such public largesse was Arab families in the Galilee. The scheme was thereafter abandoned.

The fact is that high fertility, despite appearances, has little to do with nationalism or ideological struggles. Only in the literary imagination of zealots do people procreate for the nation. High fertility is rather rooted in the perception of children as an economic and social asset, especially in agrarian societies. Demographic nationalism is often added later as an explanation for such mundane factors. Conversely the two main factors leading to dramatic falls in fertility have been women's education and female employment outside the household.

The consequences of high fertility, however, are devastating. In Israel today, the irrational fear of Arab birthrates has led right-wing and left-wing governments to import a huge number of gentiles (mostly Russians and other East Europeans) as well as putative Jews (Falashas and others) to balance Arab growth rates--even if doing so undermines the notion of Israel as a Jewish state.

Nevertheless it is useful to recall the false assumptions behind these demographic policies:

  • The conventional wisdom that families procreate out of national duty has no basis in reality. They produce children because they need them.
  • The assumption, held by many Palestinians, that eventually "we will overwhelm them with numbers" could be a self-defeating strategy. Except for the Palestinian citizens of Israel, who have made a dubious dent in the demographic balance, the high fertility of Palestinian families is more of a threat to Palestinians than to Israelis, since it contributes to large undereducated households, keeps women in conditions of virtual servitude, and contributes to poverty and ignorance. Even radical critics of the population control policies advocated by the IMF and the World Bank have now abandoned this perspective in favor of a more realistic examination of unfettered fertility and family planning schemes.
  • The assumption by Israelis that they can solve the problem by importing more Jews (putative and "real") from the western hemisphere will simply delay by less than a decade the day when parity arrives between Jews and non-Jews in Israel. It would be much better to prepare Israelis to accept the idea that we live in a world in which ethnic hegemony is no longer permissible within the parameters of democratic principles and cultural diversity.

Most intriguing about this debate is the largely-ignored fact that Arabs already constitute a majority among Israeli citizens. This is one of the best kept secrets in the annals of contemporary Zionism. If we add the Palestinian Arabs to the vast number of Jews who come from Morocco and other Arab countries, we can see that Arabs constitute a plurality of any ethnic group in the country. Obviously those Arab Jews (Mizrahim) hardly identify with Palestinian independence and tend to be among the most vociferous supporters of right-wing parties and fundamentalist religious groups. To paraphrase Gore Vidal, they are self-hating Arabs. Nevertheless, they eat the same food, listen to the same music, and have cultural affinities similar to Palestinian Arabs. The systematic attempt by dominant Ashkenazi culture to de-Arabize this community has succeeded ideologically, yet failed to obliterate their "oriental features".

Although it is false to think of the Mizrahim as potential allies of the Palestinian minority in Israel, their ambivalent cultural status undermines the whole edifice of demographic nationalism; the largest of Israel's ethnic groups is at the same time Arab and Jewish. Faced with a choice between an historic peaceful accommodation to the increasing proportion of Palestinian Arabs and Mizrahim in their midst, or continued Europeanization of the Jewish state through encouraging non-Jews to settle in Israel and the occupied territories, the Israeli leadership has opted for the latter possibility.- Published 4/7/2005 (c) bitterlemons.org

Salim Tamari is professor of sociology at Birzeit University and director of the Institute of Jerusalem Studies.

Where is the demographic problem?
by Yisrael Harel

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.- Published 4/7/2005 (c) bitterlemons.org

Yisrael Harel heads the recently established Institute for Zionist Strategy, and writes a weekly column for Haaretz daily newspaper. He served as head of the Yesha Council (Council of Jewish Settlements in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza District).

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