Recently, the small Jewish settlement of Migron was set upon by Israeli security forces. The security forces, acting on orders from Peace Now proposed Israeli court decision, demolished a total of three homes in the early hours of the morning. Around 1000 security personal were needed to remove three families and destroy their homes.
The purpose of this post is not to argue for or against settlements. My point is not to convince anyone whether they are right or wrong. Moral, emotive, or ethical arguments will not contribute in addressing any serious analysis on the topic of Jewish settlements. If I was writing 40 years ago, then this topic would be relevant. But the settlement blocs are an established reality and contain thousands of people who live in mostly cities, not tents or caravans. This post will look at the issue in a strategic framework, focusing on the reality on the ground, and explain how there needs to a realistic view when discussing the status of Jewish settlements.
Recently, the PA has demanded Israel recognize, as a precondition, the 1967 borders as the basis for peace talks. Along with President Obama, the PA also insists Israel withdraw to the 1967 lines. The PA has also insisted their state will be Judenrein (Jew free), thus hypothetically speaking, if a Palestinian state was established on the borders of their choosing, close to 600,000 Jews would be forcefully expelled. Does anyone really think this is a possibility? Statements thrown around routinely demanding Israel evacuate its West Bank settlements and Jewish residents of former East Jerusalem aren’t productive. After the Migron expulsion, France 24’s Gallagher Fenwick spoke with Hafit Ofran of the Israeli leftist NGO Peace Now. She believes that if Israel doesn’t want to annex all the West Bank, it would have to evacuate its Jewish residents. Implying that if Israel were to take the territory, it would have to accept and give full rights to the Arab population as well, an action she says most Israelis won’t agree too. Her argument would fall into line with the likes of Former Pres. Jimmy Carter, John Mearsheimer, Steven Walt, and countless others who claim if Israel holds on to the West Bank settlements, not annexing only the blocs, it is an absolute certainty the state of Israel would lose its Jewish nature and turn into an Apartheid state. Such fact less assumptions are decades old and do not hold any weight.
If it took close to a thousand security forces to expel some three families, have these people calculated the force, money, and refugee housing needed to expel over 600,000 Jews? It’s easy to declare the settlements must go and if not, Israel will be destroyed when overwhelmed by the “incredible” Arab birth rate. Acting on paranoia by destroying settlements would tear Israel apart at its core. Expelling 8500 Jews from Gaza was tough enough and costed billions of dollars. Gaza would be nothing compared to the West Bank. Not to mention that nothing good came of it. In terms of the Arab birth rate, the demographic time bomb that would destroy Israel has been around for decades. Israel still exists and holds a definite Jewish majority. As someone living in Israel, I don’t have a sense of being overrun by the supposed high Arab birth rate. On the contrary, for the past few years, official Israeli CBS stats have confirmed, the Jewish birthrate is rising and the Arab rate is declining.
Examining the CBS stats for 2010 alone, Israel’s population (inside the 1967 lines) grew by 1.9%. The Jewish population in the West Bank grew 4.9% and that was during a freeze on settlement construction. The growth rate of Israeli Arabs is still higher than Israeli Jews, but the trends are shifting. Jewish families are having more children and Israeli Arab families are on a steady decline. Jewish fertility rate stands at 2.97% and trending upwards, while the Israeli-Arab rate settled around 3.5%. In 1969 the Arab-Jewish fertility gap per woman stood at 6, now the gap has reduced to 0.5 and trending to equilibrium. The Jewish birthrate of Israel is surpisingly higher than many of its Arab neighbors, as the Arab world modernizes, their birthrate falls. In terms of the West Bank, one must be weary of PA provided statistics. Yoram Ettinger, a well-known demographer, has pointed out what has been suspected for some time. The Arab population statistics of the West Bank are grossly overstated for political purposes. The PA knows Israelis fear a “demographic bomb” and inflate their numbers. Ettinger states the number of West Bank Arabs is inflated by 1 million. According to Ettinger, “through the inclusion of nearly 400,000 overseas residents who have been away for over a year, by a double-count of 350,000 ID card-carrying Jerusalem and West Bank Arabs who are counted as Israeli Arabs by Israel and as West Bankers by the Palestinian Authority, etc. A World Bank September 2006 study documents a 32% “inflation” in the number of Palestinian births”. (The Ettinger Report) The real number of West Bank Arabs is around 1.6 million people and the PA doesn’t count emigration. The Arab fertility rate in the West Bank is falling faster than the Israeli-Arab rate and Jews represent 17% of the West Bank population and trending upwards. 66% of the population between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea is Jewish.
Now that the supposed demographic time bomb has been discredited, Israel can think of policies that are practical and realistic, without accepting the myth of being overrun and basing national policy on paranoia. Just today, Israel announced it would build some 1,100 new units in the Jewish neighborhood of Gilo in Jerusalem. To Arabs and the current US administration, this neighborhood is a settlement. Both the US and PA were up in arms over Israel’s decision to build new homes, saying it was counterproductive and destroys chances for peace. However, the neighborhood already has some 40,000 Jews! That is already a relatively high number and too many people to move in the first place. Several thousand more residents are not going to change the strategic reality on the ground. Just like Gilo, the neighborhoods and settlements of Maaleh Adumim, Ramat Shlomo, Piskat Ze’ev, East Talpiot, Har Homa, Beitar Illit, Ariel, Modin Illit, French Hill, Neve Yakov, Gush Etzion, and Ramat Alon contain tens of thousands of residents. They are not going anywhere and speaking of expelling their populations is dangerous and a non-starter. The entire Israeli army would be required to do such an operation and its consequences could be harmful for Israeli society.
Thus, the issue of the settlement blocs and Jewish neighborhoods of eastern Jerusalem must be considered on a realistic level. PA insistence and American adherence to PA demands will not achieve anything. This work does not discuss the small and isolated settlements that are located deep within the West Bank, rather settlements close to the 1967 border, which are the largest. Israel should make it clear that PA demands, whether justified or not, are unreasonable and Israel cannot be expected to expel over 600,000 people. It’s easy to say if Israel withdrew from the West Bank, everything will be fine, and the conflict will be over between the Israelis and Palestinians. However, this mode of thinking is utterly naïve. To underscore the danger, according to Abbas Zaki, a Fatah Central Committee Member, which is part of the PA, “If Israel withdraws from Jerusalem, evacuates the 650,000 settlers, and dismantles the wall – what will become of Israel? It will come to an end.” (MEMRI-Sept. 23, 2011)