Monday, May 11, 2009

Israeli Arab Population Growth Falls Back To Earth

In Defusing the demographic scare, Paul Morland writes that the tremendous growth of the Israeli Arab population was to be expected--as is its current decrease:
In the early days of the state, the Arab minority underwent a "demographic transition," something that often occurs when traditional societies confront modernity. Health care and living standards improved rapidly, life expectancy rose and infant mortality fell, but, initially, family size remained large. As a result, Israel's Arab population expanded fast, and maintained or even increased its proportion of the population, despite the massive Jewish immigration to the state. In the 1960s, Israeli Muslim women were still having on average nine children.

However, after the first stage of demographic transition - a falling death rate, a persistently high birthrate and thus rapid population growth - invariably comes a second stage, in which birthrates fall. This is now happening within Israeli Arab society, and has been for some time. The average Israeli Arab woman is now having fewer than half the children she had in the 1960s, while the Jewish birthrate has recently stabilized and even risen. This is seen in the number of children actually born each year. In 2001, there were around 95,000 Jewish births in Israel and 41,000 Arab births. Just seven years later, in 2008, Jewish births had risen to over 117,000, but Arab births had declined to less than 40,000. In a period that constitutes barely a quarter of a generation, Arab births had fallen from around 30 percent of the total to around 25 percent. This has been a steady trend and, should it continue, it will only be a very short time before Jewish and Arab births each year are broadly proportionate to the overall balance of Jews and Arabs in the population as whole - that is, 4:1, or 80 percent and 20 percent, respectively. [emphasis added]
In fact, while the Arab birth rate in Gaza and the West Bank is not so reliable--the current Israeli birth rate increases that in a number of Muslim countries:
...although the relatively high Jewish birthrate in Israel bucks the trend for developed societies, the decline in the Arab birthrate within Israel accords with recent trends in the Islamic world. Today Israeli women as a whole have more children (2.77) than women in Iran (1.71), Bahrain (2.53), Algeria (1.82), Morocco (2.57), Indonesia (2.34) or Turkey (1.87). Latest figures suggest that Israeli women now have more children than women in Egypt (2.72), Jordan (2.47) or Lebanon (1.87). As recently as 2003, Syrian women had a fertility rate 50 percent higher than that of Israeli women. By 2008, it was only 16 percent higher.
But even if Morland is correct, Israel is not out of the woods yet. In his article, Seven Existential Threats, Michael Oren writes that the Arab demographics remain one of those threats:
Even if the minimalist interpretation [that the Arab Israeli population is declining] is largely correct, it cannot alter a situation in which Israeli Arabs currently constitute one-fifth of the country’s population—one-quarter of the population under age 19--and in which the West Bank now contains at least 2 million Arabs.

Israel, the Jewish State, is predicated on a decisive and stable Jewish majority of at least 70 percent. Any lower than that and Israel will have to decide between being a Jewish state and a democratic state. If it chooses democracy, then Israel as a Jewish state will cease to exist. If it remains officially Jewish, then the state will face an unprecedented level of international isolation, including sanctions, that might prove fatal.
Be that as it may, Morland concludes that the focus on the numbers is misplaced. He writes that the focus should not be on the size of the Israeli Arab minority,
but rather what kind of minority it will be. Will it be an integrated part of society, upwardly mobile, both socially and economically, enjoying and contributing to the fruits of Israeli society, a potential bridge to the region and an advertisement for Israel's inclusiveness and tolerance? Or will it become marginalized, alienated and increasingly hostile? That depends very much on the Jewish majority's attitudes and the government's policies. It also depends on a pragmatic and realistic Arab leadership looking out for the interests of its constituency and basing its strategy on a sober understanding of its own demographic prospects.
Bottom line, for all of Netanyahu's talk about implementing his proposal for a triple-track approach that includes addressing the economic issues of the Palestinian Arabs, he will need to address the economic, as well as the political, concerns of the Israeli Arabs as well.

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