Glen Chagi Chesir

On March 21, 2013, President Barack Obama stated at the Jerusalem Convention Center: “Given the demographics west of the Jordan River, the only way for Israel to endure and thrive as a Jewish and democratic state is through the realization of an independent and viable Palestine.” President Obama was of course referring to the conventional demographic argument, which incentivizes Israel to reach a two state solution: if we don’t give the Palestinians a state of their own, then the Palestinians will ultimately be the majority in the Jewish state. This demographic time bomb has been ticking for quite some time, and has kept the pressure on the Israeli Government to reach some sort of a peace deal. After all, the Jewish state must avoid this demographic doom.

But what if this demographic fear wasn’t really an issue? According to Yoram Ettinger, the former Israeli Minister for congressional Affairs in Washington D.C. and current Chairman of special projects for the Ariel Center for Policy Research, the numbers speak for themselves. “From a minority of 9 percent and 39 percent in 1897 and 1948, respectively, in the combined area of Judea, Samaria and ‘pre-1967 Israel,’ Jews have surged to a 66 percent majority in 2013, benefitting from a robust tailwind of fertility and immigration.” Furthermore, “The number of Israeli Jews is 6.3 million (including some 300,000 Soviet immigrants who are not yet recognized as Jews by the Rabbinate) next to 1.7 million Israeli Arabs and 1.65 million Judean and Samarian Arabs.” So clearly there are more Jews in Israel now than Arabs—and it’s not close. 

But the conversation doesn’t end here. Those propping up this artificial demographic argument for a two state solution will call for an analysis of the birth rates. If we don’t act now, they claim, then there will be more Arabs than Jews in the state of Israel in the near future. But this argument too does not have the numbers to substantiate its claims. The Ettinger report continues, “During the first half of 2013, the number of Jewish births was 77 percent of total births, compared with 69 percent in 1995.  In 2013, there are 3.5 Jewish births per 1 Arab birth, compared with a 2.3:1 ratio in 1995.” In short, the birthrate trend actually favors the Jewish population, not hinders its survival.

The birthrate of the Palestinians has actually decreased quite a bit. As per historical trends around the world, with the influence of western culture, resources, and foreign aid comes expanded women’s education and employment, a record high divorce rate and wedding age, all time high family planning and rapidly declining teen-pregnancy. All of these things contribute to a declining birth rate.

Despite the counter-evidence, the demographic argument is used by both Israelis and Palestinians to justify the seemingly perpetual quest for a two state solution. From the Israel perspective, this fabricated argument is a tool used by the politically middle and left to keep the right on board with negotiations; the right cannot ignore the Palestinian issue if there is a ticking demographic time bomb. Moreover, the Palestinians will use the artificial demographic time bomb as a threat of sorts—give us a state or we will be able to take yours.

The Israelis should strive for a peace agreement with the Palestinians for countless reasons that I will not rehash here. But with the many factions of the Palestinian people quarreling with each other over virtually everything, and this demographic time bomb not a true cause of concern, then the time for a peace deal may not be now. Until the stars align accordingly, and a true leader committed to peace and represents all of his citizens emerges on both sides, then any Kerry-forced negotiations and prisoner releases will be nothing short of a waste of time. No artificial incentive can change that.


Glen Chagi Chesir is a Junior at Brandeis University, studying finance and politics, is the forum editor for the Brandeis Justice school newspaper.

PictureAri Weisfuse
Ari R. Weisfuse

Given recent polling in the West Bank, it is evident that President Mahmoud Abbass lacks the political credibility with his own populous to make the necessary concessions for a two state solution.  His demise along with the Palestinian Authority (PA) is all but inevitable. Politicians from Berkley to Brussels will decry the diplomatic stagnation, and the Israeli government’s unwillingness to acquiesce to a settlement moratorium to bolster Ramallah. But the truth is, Jerusalem’s unwillingness to negotiate (publically) with the members of the Tandhim, a more militant fringe of Fatah headed by Marwan Barghouti, will doom the peace process. Leftists like Uri Avnery hail Barghouti as the Palestinian Nelson Mandela while rightists label him an arch-terrorist. In short, both labels are erroneous.

It is true that Barghouti along with other members of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, an offshoot of Fatah, were responsible for some of the bloodiest terrorist attacks during the Second Intifada. However, it is imperative to recognize that Barghouti’s decision making is based on an adroit cost-benefit analysis, devoid of ideological considerations. According to the declassified transcript of the Shin Bet’s interrogation of Barghouti (2002), the militant recognized that the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, with Arafat’s blessing, carried out suicide bombings in Israel proper. At the time, Arafat and the leadership cadre of Tandhim were afraid of being outmaneuvered by Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), and in turn, lose popular legitimacy. However due to the political reality that emerged in the aftermath of the Second Intifada, Barghouti was forced to revisit his support for suicide operations. Given, the IDF’s harsh crack down on Fatah’s terrorist infrastructure in the West Bank during Operation Defensive Shield (2002) and Palestinian yearning for the cessation of violence, it was advantageous for the Barghouti to renounce the indiscriminate killing of civilians.

Recent polling conducted by Khalil Shikaki’s Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, indicates that in a potential run off election between Abass, Barghouti and Haniyah, Bargouti would garner 37 percent of the vote, Haniyah 33 percent and Abass 25 percent.  Given the hardline stance of Fatah’s young guard, Barghouti and his cohorts maintain good relations with Izz al din al Qassam, Hamas’ military wing. According to intelligence officials, ties between Barghouti and Hamas officials have grown during the former’s incarceration, due to increased cooperation between Fatah and Hamas inmates.  Understandably, Barghouti’s legacy and ties to terror inhibit the Israeli public from embracing him as a peace partner. However, a two-state solution necessitates in Barghouti’s words, “two leaders who are ready” and have the political legitimacy to “take risks.” As the PA continues to lose political clout on the streets of Ramallah, Israeli decision makers will need to cross the rubicon, as President Nixon did with China in 1971, and negotiate with Barghouti. Only a pragmatic Palestinian leader with immense political currency will be able to revoke the right of return, which Arafat was unable or unwilling to do at Camp David.

Ari R. Weisfuse is a senior at Brandeis University, studying politics and Islam and Middle East Studies.

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