Demographic Optimism IN, Demographic Pessimism OUT


By Yoram Ettinger

Headshot of Yoram Ettinger

The suggestion that Israel should retreat from the mountain ridges of Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) is based, partly, on the assumption that Israel’s Jewish majority is exposed to an “Arab demographic time bomb,” which would explode were Israel to extend its law to Judea and Samaria.

However, not only is there no demographic time bomb, Israel currently benefits from demographic momentum, fertility-wise and migration-wise.

Arab demography artificially inflated

The erroneous assumption is based on the official Palestinian numbers, which are embraced and reverberated by the global community — with no due-diligence auditing — ignoring the artificial inflation of Judea and Samaria’s Arab population by some 1.6 million people.

For instance:
The official Palestinian census counts 500,000 residents who have been away for over a year, while international standards require their elimination from the census (until they return for at least 90 days). This number was documented by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (325,000 in 1997), Election Commission (400,000 in 2005) and Interior Ministry, increasing systematically through births.

The Palestinian census ignores the net emigration of 390,000 since the first 1997 census, as documented by Israel’s Population and Immigration Authority, which supervises Israel’s international passages.

Then there is the fact that 375,000 Jerusalem Arabs and more than 150,000 (mostly) Judea and Samaria Arabs who married Israeli Arabs are double-counted (by Israel and the Palestinian Authority). This number increases systematically through births.

With regard to births, a September 2006 World Bank report documented a 32% artificial inflation of their number. At the same time, deaths have been substantially underreported, as evidenced by the 2007 Palestinian census — which included Arabs born in 1845.

The aforementioned data indicates an artificial inflation of some 1.6 million in the Palestinian census of Judea and Samaria’s Arab population, which is therefore actually 1.4 million — not 3 million.

Arab demography Westernized

Contrary to Western conventional wisdom, Arab demography has been Westernized dramatically in recent years, from a fertility rate of nine births per woman west of the Jordan River during the 1960s to 2.85 births in 2021 in pre-1967 Israel and 3.02 in Judea and Samaria.

The Westernization of Arab demography has been a result of sweeping urbanization, from a 70% rural population in Judea and Samaria in 1967 to a 77% urban population in 2022. In addition, almost all girls complete high school, resulting in the expanded integration of women in employment and academia, as well as an increase in wedding age (from 15 to 24 years old). Moreover, there has been an expansion in the use of contraceptives (70% of women in the P.A.) and a shorter fertility cycle (25 through 45 in 2022 compared to 16 through 55 during the 1960s).

Demographic Westernization has occurred in the entire Muslim world, with the exception of the sub-Saharan countries: In 2022, Jordan stood at 2.9 births per woman; Iran at 1.9; Saudi Arabia 1.9; Morocco 2.27; Iraq 3.17; Egypt 2.76; Yemen 2.91; and the United Arab Emirates 1.62.

Jewish demographic momentum

Israel’s Jewish demography, on the other hand, features a fertility momentum, especially in the secular sector, simultaneously with a moderate decline in the ultra-Orthodox sector. In fact, Israeli Jewish fertility (3.13 births per woman) is higher than that of any Arab country other than Iraq (3.17). The OECD’s average fertility rate is 1.61 births per woman.

In 2022, the number of Jewish births (137,566) was 71% higher than in 1995 (80,400), while the number of Arab births (43,417) was 19% higher than in 1995 (36,500).
Contrary to most global societies, Israel enjoys a positive correlation between fertility level, on the one hand, and the level of education, income, urbanization and (the rise of) wedding age on the other hand.

The growth of Jewish fertility reflects a high level of patriotism, optimism, attachment to roots, communal responsibility, frontier mentality, high regard for raising children and a decline in the number of abortions.

The Jewish population is growing younger, while the Arab population is growing older.
Until the 1990s, there was a demographic race between Arab births and Jewish immigration. Since the 1990s, the race has been between Jewish and Arab births, while net migration provides a robust boost to Jewish demography.

The Jewish demographic momentum has been bolstered by an annual aliyah (Jewish immigration) — which has been the most critical engine of Israel’s economic, educational, technological and military growth — simultaneously with the declining scope of annual emigration. From an additional 14,200 emigrants in 1990 to 10,800 in 2020, while the overall population has doubled since 1990. A substantial decline in emigration has taken place since the 2007/2008 global economic meltdown, which has underscored the relative stability and growth of Israel’s economy.

In 2023, there has been an increase in aliyah. This highlights the potential of 500,000 Jewish immigrants over the next five years — from Europe, the former USSR, Latin American and North America — should the Israeli government resurrect the pro-active aliyah policy that defined Israel from 1948 through 1992.

The bottom line

In 1897, upon convening the First Zionist Congress, there was a 9% Jewish minority in the combined area of Judea, Samaria and pre-1967 Israel.

In 1948, upon the establishment of the Jewish state, there was a 39% Jewish minority in the combined area of Judea, Samaria and pre-1967 Israel.

In 2022, there was a 69% Jewish majority in the combined area of Judea, Samaria and pre-1967 Israel (7.5 million Jews, 2 million Arabs in pre-1967 Israel and 1.4 million Arabs in Judea and Samaria), benefiting from a tailwind of fertility and net migration.

Those who claim that the Jewish majority — in the combined area of Judea, Samaria and pre-1967 Israel — is threatened by an Arab demographic time bomb are either dramatically mistaken or outrageously misleading.

Yoram Ettinger is a former ambassador and head of Second Thought: A U.S.-Israel Initiative.

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