Yonatan Bassi, head of the disengagement administration, justified the pullout plan (in Globes, July 29) by saying that in Gaza, “there used to be 600,000 Arabs. Now there are 1.4 million people there… in a few more years what happened to South Africa will happen to us. The UN will decide that either we give the right to vote to everyone or we will be outcasts from the family of nations. Absurdly, the greatest danger that could befall us… is that the intifada would end – because then we would fall asleep and wake up to a binational state.”
That is the entire apocalyptic demographic doctrine on one demagogic leg. But that apocalyptic scenario has nothing at all to do with the evacuation of Gaza. True, the disengagement plan makes claims about improving Israel’s demographic situation, but it is not clear how. Will the evacuation of 7,000 Israelis from Gaza change the estimate that there will be 2.3 million Arabs there in 2020 or 5.1 million in 2050? Will giving up the disengagement plan oblige Israel to grant the Palestinians the right to vote in Israel? Is it plausible that the UN, which has always favored a two-state partition, would convert to the one-state principle, against the majority of countries of the world, including Israel and the U.S.?
In effect, for the last decade, all Israeli governments have been implementing political disengagement from the Palestinian population of the territories. The cities and towns of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip have long since been evacuated. The number of Palestinians between the river and sea is no longer relevant to Israel being a Jewish democratic state. The demographic process in the territories thus has become the main problem of the Palestinians, who anyway are finding it difficult to build a properly functioning administration and an economy that can sustain itself.
A population that doubles itself every generation and is unable to grow its economy at a pace that keeps up with the demographic growth rate is dooming itself to ever worsening poverty and backwardness. The problem of the residents of Gaza is not “one man, one vote.” In any case they have the right to vote in Palestinian Authority institutions. The essence of the Gaza problem was and remains “one man, one job,” and the disengagement plan is only going to aggravate that problem.
The Arab Human Development Report found that a third of the population in the Arab world earns less than $2 a day. It’s double that in Gaza. If they wanted, the Palestinians could take a lesson from several states in the region that managed to reduce their birth rates. While the current birth rate among Palestinians is 5.9 children per woman (in Gaza, it reaches 6.6), in Egypt it has dropped to 2.9, in Tunisia to 2.1, in Syria to 3.6, in Lebanon to 2.2, and in Jordan to 4.3. Iran has also seen a dramatic drop to 2.1 children per woman. The international institutions that support the Palestinians would do well by linking their support to more effective family planning among Palestinians, as was demanded of Egypt.
It is also important that the American and European programs to advance the Middle East, as formulated at various summits and inspired by the Arab Human Development Report and which seek to improve freedoms, education and women’s status in the Arab world – reach the Palestinians as well. Such reforms, alongside the reduction of the birth rate to the regional average, could stabilize the Palestinians’ demographic problem, which is more theirs than it is Israel’s at this point.
But it is already clear that, first of all, there is no point in waving around an apocalyptic demographic scenario from which Israel already extricated itself. And there certainly should not be any comparisons to South Africa or hollow threats about a binational state, as the Palestinian propagandists are prone to make. Certainly, one should not express hope for the intifada to continue, not even for rhetorical purposes.
And secondly, if the Palestinians do not restrain their demographic growth, and continue their armed and international campaigns against Israel, the apocalypse could very well be theirs. It is in their interest and ours that this does not happen.
This ran in HaAretz, August 6th, 2004