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The `demographic scarecrow'

We must continue to oppose the "right" of return, and persist in our efforts to prevent the creeping return both of illegal aliens and of other people through family unification.

By Avraham Tal

Last week, a report was presented to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee stating that the number of Palestinians in the territories is far lower than the number accepted by Palestinian and Israeli demographers. In response, MK Ahmed Tibi (Hadash-Ta'al) said, according to Globes: "Use of the demographic scarecrow for good or for bad has the smell of racism. ... Solution to the conflict must come from the need for peace regardless of the number of Palestinians on both sides of the Green Line."

It is easy for Tibi to scorn Jewish involvement with the "demographic problem" and to be condescending out of a desire for peace. He can do that knowing that demography works in Arab Israelis' favor, because although they are Israeli in citizenship, they are Palestinian in national identity, and their affinity for their brothers in the territories is stronger than their affinity for their Jewish partners-in-citizenship. But Jews in Israel are not just entitled, but obligated, to pay attention to what Tibi calls the "demographic scarecrow," but looks to them more like a threatening demon because it is based on statistics.

The Arab population in Israel numbers 1.36 million, about 20 percent of the general population. Last week the Central Bureau of Statistics published data on Israel's Muslim community, which constitutes 82 percent of the Arab population. The data expressly prove that demographics is not a scarecrow.

According to the CBS announcement, the rate of increase of the Muslim population in 2004 was 3.2 percent, due to entirely natural growth - 2.5 times higher than the 1.3 percent rise in the Jewish population. The rate of increase of Israel's Muslim population is higher than that of neighboring Arab states. Muslims are 16 percent of the entire population - but 25 percent of babies in Israel were born this year to Muslim mothers.

The key to natural growth figures is the number of births a woman is likely to have in her lifetime (the birthrate). In order to maintain a stable population, women must have an average of 2.1 children. The table above demonstrates not only the fertility of the Muslim woman in Israel, but the source of the demographic troubles of Western Europe.

The birthrates of Muslim women fell sharply after the 1960s, when they exceeded 9 births per woman. After more than 20 years of stability at a rate of 4.6-4.7 births in the '70s and '80s, the rate dropped slightly in 2002 and 2003 to 4.5 births.

It is possible that in the future, the birthrate of Muslim women may fall to the levels of other Israeli social sectors, but by then there could be a substantial change in the "weight" of Israel's Muslim population, creating a real demographic threat to the character of the state.

What should be done (or not done) in the face of this possibility?

First and foremost, not annexing East Jerusalem and its 250,000 Palestinian residents. Without East Jerusalem, the Arab population in Israel drops from 20 percent to 15 percent.

Caution must be used in annexing blocs of settlements, which may bring large Palestinian groups with them; on the other hand, annexation must be done on the basis of land exchange for territories with large Israeli Arab populations.

We must continue to oppose the "right" of return, and persist in our efforts to prevent the creeping return both of illegal aliens and of other people through family unification.

The amendment to the Citizenship Law withholding residency status and citizenship from the Palestinian spouses of Israeli citizens isn't "pretty," and is a matter of concern for civil rights advocates. But considering the demographic threat, civil rights and liberal considerations must be suspended in an effort to act according to the rules: Jews have the right to marry and settle their land, Arabs have the right to marry and settle in a land that represents their national identity. Even Western states, proponents of liberalism and civil rights, have been forced to surrender to the demographic threat and impose limits on the import of foreign citizens.