Letters To the Editor:
Hillel Halkin writes that because of the large and growing population of Palestinians west of the Jordan River, Israels demise as a Jewish state could take place
by means of demographic swamping alone–and this even if Israel were to withdraw to, or nearly to, its 1967 borders.
The demographic problem is real, but there is a great deal of misinformation in the air about it. A recent study by the American-Israel Demographic Research Group (AIDRG) has shown that the Palestinian Authority has deliberately inflated its population figures to total over 3.3 million, while the actual figure is closer to the neighborhood of 2.4 million. The AIDRG study, which was presented to Congress last year, also shows that the fertility rate for Israeli Jews stands at 2.75 children per woman, the highest in the industrialized world. While this is not expected to rise further by 2025, the Palestinian Arab birthrate is expected to drop to 2.4 by that date, following patterns across the Middle East. In Israel proper, new welfare laws have led to a major drop in the Arab Bedouin birthrate while not affecting the birthrate among religious Jews. All in all, Israels Central Bureau of Statistics indicates that Jewish births in Israel have risen from 69 percent of the total in 1995 to 74 percent in 2006.
The findings of the AIDRG study have enormous implications. Chief among them is the fact that a sound 67-percent Jewish majority in 98.5 percent of the land west of the Jordan River (excluding Gaza) can be expected for the foreseeable future.
Morton A. Klein
Zionist Organization of America
New York City
Hillel Halkin replies:
I am familiar with the population study of the American-Israel Demographic Research Group cited by Morton A. Klein, and I think its findings need to be taken seriously. It is important to realize, however, that there are leading Israeli demographers who, for good reasons, challenge these findings in part or in whole. (To take just one example, the assumption that the Palestinian Arab birthrate will drop from its present level of roughly 4.5 children per family to 2.4 by 2025 strikes me as wildly optimistic.) But even if these findings are correct, Mr. Klein and I draw opposite conclusions from them. He thinks that an Israel with a 33 percent minority of hostile Palestinian Arabs would be a viable country. I think it would be a dysfunctional one in which ethnic animosities, ethnic politics, and the specter of ethnic warfare would overshadow all else.