For years the left, myself included, claimed that there would be an Arab majority between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea in the very near future. And then, if we surrendered to the dream of a Greater Israel, Israel would not be able to remain Jewish and democratic. Without a Jewish majority we would have to choose between two non-Zionist options: Jewish apartheid or a non-Jewish democracy.
This argument is somewhat formalistic; reality is less geometric. It’s not clear when the decisive moment of formal annexation would arrive, and when exactly we would be forced to make this clear choice between apartheid and a non-Jewish democracy. It may be possible to continue living in uncertainty for a long time, with a military regime in the territories that would always be considered temporary. We would probably not be able to do it forever, but it could conceivably last decades.
And of course the option of a non-Jewish democracy is purely theoretical. If there is an Arab majority here, there will be an Arab government here, which according to a relatively optimistic forecast would resemble the corrupt dictatorship of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. But it’s certainly probable that it would be much worse, something like the Hamas regime in Gaza.
But despite the formalistic nature of the demographic argument, it held much sway, even on the right – until it turned out that the forecast was mistaken. First, we removed Gaza from the story already in 2005. Second, it turns out that the entire argument is based on inflated numbers supplied by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, and on significant research errors.
It turns out that the gloomy forecasts about a loss of the Jewish majority have been refuted time after time. In a January 6, 2015 article on Mida, an Israeli current affairs and opinion website, demographer Yaakov Feitelson counted nine times in which the prophecy of the loss of the Jewish majority had to be put off.
In addition, as analyst Yoram Ettinger notes, Arab birth rates are declining and Jewish birth rates are increasing. According to Ettinger, the number of Arabs in Judea and Samaria is not 3 million, as the Palestinians claim, but 1.8 million, almost exactly the same as the number of Arab citizens of Israel (according to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics in September 2017).
Ettinger’s optimistic forecasts are disputed by the army, among others, but they were enthusiastically adopted by the right, parts of which were happy to declare that there is no demographic problem. This kind of optimism had become a tailwind for settlements entitled to prevent any future separation between the two peoples.
But suppose we accept Ettinger’s numbers as facts, do they mean that Israel could safely annex Judea and Samaria?
Hardly. Doubling the number of Arab citizens in Israel would decisively tip the balance and make Israel a binational rather than a nation-state. The full political weight of this minority, if it organized effectively, could reach 48 of the Knesset’s 120 seats. Does anyone seriously imagine that the Jewish state would continue to be Jewish with an Arab Joint List that would eclipse in size any Zionist party?
Moreover, the population added to the existing minority is one that has undergone anti-Semitic brainwashing for generations, and we can assume that compared to the new representatives who would emerge from it, the controversial Arab MK Haneen Zoabi would seem like an advocate of peace and coexistence. And I still haven’t mentioned what all this would do to Israel’s economy.
It’s amazing how the right, which prides itself on its (justified) realism when it comes to the Palestinians’ malicious intentions regarding the peace process, has suddenly become so optimistic about the possibility of coexistence when it sees the possibility of annexation. This optimism has no basis in reality. Over the long term annexation means a Bosnian situation. We will then not be debating the virtues of a non-Jewsh democracy versus a Jewish apartheid. We will be too busy fighting an endless civil war.