2004 August 24 Tuesday
Benny Morris, Israel, and Demographic Trends

David B. Green, editor of the Jerusalem Report, has an interesting essay in the UK's Prospect Magazine on the topic of Israeli leftist historian Benny Morris's abandonment of his belief that the Palestinians can be bargained with. Morris, like many Israelis, has woken up to the fact that their state is threatened by a demographic trend.

That was only the beginning. Earlier this year, Morris gave an interview to Ha'aretz, the Tel-Aviv based daily broadsheet. He explained that his research for a recently revised edition of the Palestinian Refugee Problem had turned up more evidence of murder and rape of Palestinians. In addition, he had found confirmation of numerous cases in which ethnic cleansing of Arabs from territory Jews were trying to consolidate had been policy and not just the by-product of a defensive war. "Transfer," he wrote in the book, "was inevitable and in-built into Zionism - because it sought to transform a land which was 'Arab' into a 'Jewish' state and a Jewish state could not have arisen without a major displacement of the Arab population."

Yet far from wringing his hands over these new revelations, Morris explained that Israelis, at least, would probably have been better off had they completed the expulsion of the Palestinians from the entire land - the Mediterranean to the Jordan river - in 1948. Israel's leader, David Ben-Gurion, he argued, had got cold feet. "If the end of the story turns out to be a gloomy one for the Jews, it will be because Ben-Gurion did not complete the transfer in 1948. Because he left a large and volatile demographic reserve in the West Bank and Gaza and within Israel itself." As a consequence, Israel was burdened not only with some 3.5m Palestinians in the occupied territories, but also with a large minority population of Arab citizens in Israel proper (today 1.2m out of a total population of 6m), and they constitute a "timebomb" and a "potential fifth column." He contemplated (some might say relished) the possibility that some day, if Israel were exposed to an existential threat from, say, Egypt and Syria, it might have no alternative but to complete the expulsion begun more than 50 years earlier.

Demographic trends ran in a direction favorable to the Jews in Palestine and Israel for most of the 20th century. They came to take favorable demographic trends for granted and made some large and damaging miscalculations as a result. Leaving the question of fairness aside, the Israeli Jews were unwise to build settlements on the West Bank because those settlements depended upon a continued favorable demographic environment. But at some point Jews as a percentage of the population west of the Jordan river peaked and began a decline which now looks set to continue for decades to come.

Aside: Does anyone know in what year Jews peaked as a percentage of the total population west of the Jordan River? Also, when did Jews peak as a percentage of the population of Israel proper? It would be interesting to see a chart showing the percentages of Jews, Muslims, Christians, and others west of the Jordan River over the last 100 years.

The demographic trends in Israel and surrounding environs make the security barrier between the West Bank and Israel absolutely necessary for the security of Israel. The only issue that ought to be debated about the barrier is its exact route.

Demographic trends due to immigration and low native birth rates in Europe and the United States are also unfavorable. The West needs to embrace very vigorous border control and restrictive immigration policies or the character of Western societies will experience large changes for the worse.

Morris's books trace the development of his thinking as he delved into history but then also reacted to the second intifada. See The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, 1947-1949, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited, and Righteous Victims: A History of the Zionist-Arab Conflict, 1881-2001.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2004 August 24 01:05 PM  MidEast Arabs Versus Israelis

conrad said at August 25, 2004 12:03 PM:

I read Benny Morris's interview that shocked the Israeli intelligentsia. The champion of the appeasers changed his spots and grew some hardballs. Israel has gone through a tremendous transition, under constant threat from muslim extremists. Russia just lost two airliners to a terror team from out of Iran. Iran is Israel's number one enemy, not the Palestinians. But long term the Palestinians will outbreed the Jews and take over Palestine, regardless of any walls that may be built.

T. J. Madison said at August 27, 2004 9:23 AM:

I'm sure a Final Solution to the Palestinian Problem will be implemented before the demographic situation gets too bad.

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