When the late Yasser Arafat used to predict that “the womb of the Arab woman” was the Palestinians’ “strongest weapon”, he meant that the Arabs of Israel and the Palestinian territories would outbreed Jews, and thus overwhelm the Jewish state by virtue of their superior numbers. Of course, this was before Israel’s Gaza pullout and falling Palestinian birthrates changed the demographics in Israel’s favor quite drastically.
Nonetheless, the narrative regarding this so-called ‘demographic time bomb’ still informs much of the debate about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, at least amongst those who argue that a two-state arrangement must be achieved immediately to save Israel from a situation where a Jewish minority rules over an Arab majority.
This is the broader context within a claim in a March 19th Times of London post-election editorial, Myopia in Israel, on Binyamin Netanyahu’s putative reluctance to support the creation of a Palestinian state under current circumstances.
he [Netanyahu] offered young Israelis no sense of how the country should evolve if it rejects a two-state solution. Matching the prospect of an Iranian bomb, Israel is faced with a demographic time bomb. The birth rate among Arab families in Israel is so high that at some point Arabs will form a majority. The choice will be even more uncomfortable than the one posed on election day. It will be between Israelis having a Jewish state or a democratic one.
After we complained to Times of London editors that the language was misleading and confusing, they changed the sentence in bold. It now reads: “The birth rate among Arab families in Israel has been high enough to cause fears that at some point Arabs will form a majority.”
Though the revised language still renders the sentence extremely hard to decipher, even the narrow claim that some fear that “at some point Arabs will form a majority” due to “high birthrates” is very misleading.
If they’re referring to the percentage of Jews and Arabs in Israel (not including West Bank Palestinians), there is no such “fear” of an Arab majority. The Jewish population of Israel is currently 6,186,100, while 1,709,900 citizens are Arab. Further, demographic studies demonstrate that the Israeli Arab birthrate today is almost exactly the same as the Israeli Jewish birthrate (at around 3 births per woman), and that Jews are projected to constitute a strong majority in Israel over the foreseeable future.
Alternately, Times of London editors may have been referring to the population of Jews and Arabs in both Israel and all of the West Bank.
However, even then, there doesn’t seem to be a threat that Arabs will soon form a majority. Even if you add 2.7 million West Bank Palestinians to the equation, that leaves us with nearly 6.2 million Israeli Jews compared to 4.4 million Arabs (again, in Israel and all of the West Bank). Further, the birthrate of Palestinians in the West Bank, now at about four births per woman, has dropped considerably over the past several decades and now is only marginally higher than the Israeli Jewish birthrate.
So, if Israel continues to maintain control of the West Bank, and if current fertility rates among Jews and Arabs continue, then, according to a comprehensive study by Sergio DellaPergola, a Hebrew University professor and expert on Israeli population studies, by 2030 Jews will still be a majority (within Israel and all of the West Bank), constituting 54 percent of the population.
DellaPergola only envisions an Arab majority (if current trends continue) by the middle of the century.
- The ‘Arab population bomb’ in Israel doesn’t exist.
- The ‘Arab population bomb’within the territory of Israel and all of the West Bank is decades away.
Though there are good reasons to continue conducting bilateral negotiations in hopes of reaching a two-state deal, those who suggest that such unimaginably complex political and security arrangements need to be agreed upon immediately due to an imminent demographic time bomb are simply ignoring the relevant demographic data.