A Time Bomb that Continues to Tick—New Census of Palestinians Spells more Danger to a Single Jewish State Model
By John Mason, Contributing Writer/Arab America
A new census of Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza, and the diaspora is only a fresh reminder to observers and policymakers involved in the Israel-Palestine conflict, that the unrelenting population growth in the Israel occupied territories will come home to roost if a single-state solution becomes the option.
New Growth of the Palestinian Population in historical Palestine
The Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, in reporting on its recent census, noted that there are approximately 13.5 Palestinians in “historical Palestine and diaspora.” Of that figure, about 5.1 million are located in what the census labels the State of Palestine, namely in the occupied West Bank and Gaza. The remaining 8 million are spread over the rest of the globe. A further distinction is that 3.05 million Palestinians reside in the West Bank, while 2.05 live in the Gaza Strip. Additional salient statistics based on the census are the following:
- Occupied Territory Palestinians are about equally split among females and males
- 38 percent of the population in Palestine is under 14 years of age
- the elderly aged 65 years and above constituted 3% of the total population;
- the number of Palestinian localities in the West Bank that the Israeli occupying power intends to annex is 43, the number of Palestinians in this area is 112,427 individuals, and the total area amounts to 477.3 square kilometres
- the crude birth rate in Palestine is projected at 29.9 births/1000 of the population in 2020
- the average birth rate in Palestine in 2017 was 4.4 births and
- the average size of the household declined to 5.1 individuals in 2019 compared to 5.8 in 2007
While this census contains very useful data on such conditions as household economies, literacy, and communications, including Wi-Fi access, our focus is the demography of Palestine.
Jewish Settler Population Growth Rate in West Bank almost matches Palestinian rate
Interestingly, the only other population in Israel and Palestine that approximately matches the growth rate of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza is that of Jewish settlers in the West Bank. According to Haaretz, “The highest average family size among Jewish families is in Judea and Samaria, 4.6 persons per family, which is nearly 1.5 times the size of the average Tel Aviv family.” Haaretz’ use of the terms Judea and Samaria demonstrates the politics of the issue of people and land since these two names are at the heart of the ownership problem of occupied Palestine and are central to the Zionist vocabulary.
In any case, the large family size of Jewish settlers in the West Bank complicates the demography of the area. Setters comprise almost a half million people (450,000), a figure the Israeli government uses to further justify its claim to the land occupied by the settlers. Settler portion of the West Bank population represents about 15%, which is just a bit less than the portion of Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel, around 20%.
Demography and the One-State Solution—how do those two go together?
One-state as a solution to resolving the Israel-Palestine conflict is viewed as a more-and-more likely approach to the problem. Some call it a bi-national state, but that concept does not reflect at all what the Israelis have in mind, at least as far as I can see. Such a unified, single state known as Israel would replace the occupied territories of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and possibly East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. It would presumably include citizenship and equal rights for those entities and Israel, regardless of ethnicity or religion. Whose pipe dream is this? But, even some Palestinians are no longer insisting on a two-state solution. Such a solution would somehow absolve Israel of its role as an occupier and the stigma of being a colonial power.
Were such a single state to emerge from this long, sad legacy of the Palestine-Israel conflict, it risks the loss of Israel’s identity as a Jewish state. In addition, Palestine would not achieve its long-sought requirement for its national independence, presumably through a two-state remedy. Were a one-state solution to prevail, it should presume that each national grouping, Israelis and Palestinians, would maintain their legal and political rights. That seems to be too much for the Netanyahu regime to swallow, especially if such a state were to support a unitary, democratic state, including an electoral system based on one-person-one-vote.
Why are some Palestinians and Supporters leaning towards a One-State solution?
Frustrated by any progress in negotiating a two-state solution, some Palestinians have begun reluctantly to conclude that as long as Netanyahu or his newly-combined party remains in office and the Palestinian Authority is incapable of achieving meaningful results, the one-state solution has become a political possibility. Continued expansion of West Bank settlements has become part of Israeli reality politics, but with the risk to Israel that a one-state reality would result in Israeli Jews becoming a minority. Palestinian support for one state clearly has this scenario in mind, which in the end is untenable to Israeli Jews. But, what does it achieve for Palestinians, whose goal for decades has been to free itself from foreign occupation? That is the dilemma.
Some on the Israeli side have a very different opinion about a one-state or two-state solution. An article in Dissent suggested that some Israeli settlers in the West Bank “will fight with all their strength to prevent an Israeli withdrawal and the establishment of a Palestinian state.” That article also averred, “on the Palestinian side, as well, a new situation has emerged. National unity has dissolved, the national movement has atrophied and declined, and the idea has become acceptable that if there won’t be two states for two peoples, it is better that there be one state.”
We will not try to resolve this issue here, but only wish to keep the issue alive and to create an arena where we can discuss it openly and, we hope, rationally.
“About 13.5 million Palestinians in historical Palestine and diaspora – Palestinian News & Info Agency, Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, 7/9/2020
Israel and Occupied Territory Population Statistics, Haaretz, 1/30/2014
“One State/Two States: Rethinking Israel and Palestine,” Dissent, Summer, 2010
John Mason, PhD., who focuses on Arab culture, society, and history, is the author of LEFT-HANDED IN AN ISLAMIC WORLD: An Anthropologist’s Journey into the Middle East, New Academia Publishing, 2017. He has taught at the University of Libya, Benghazi, Rennselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York, and the American University in Cairo; John served with the United Nations in Tripoli, Libya, and consulted extensively on socioeconomic and political development for USAID and the World Bank in 65 countries.
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