Obama stated: Peace – Palestinian statehood “is necessary”, “peace is just”, “peace is possible”.
President Barack Obama’s visit to Israel last March likely left even his harshest Israeli critics pleasantly surprised. He showered Israel with compliments, joked about prior disagreements, and most importantly, made no demands.
Still, Obama could not completely refrain from addressing the “Israeli- Palestinian conflict,” and delivered one of his signature lecture-speeches on the subject towards the end of his visit.
Though the speech had little policy significance at the time, in retrospect, Obama did something rarely attempted by foreign dignitaries: he made an actual argument for the two-state solution, succinctly capturing the three fragile pillars its proponents rely upon. In so doing, however, he revealed how preposterous a solution it actually is.
“First,” Obama argued, “peace,” or more accurately, Palestinian statehood, “is necessary.” Why? Primarily because of demographics. “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.”
It’s a familiar argument in Israel, and the prospect of having an Arab majority in the country is indeed scary for any Zionist. But the picture may not be as dire as it seems. A study published in 2005 by the Begin Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University argued that Palestinian numbers had been inflated by as many as 1.4 million persons. Further undercutting the demographic prophecy of doom, figures released by Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics in January showed Jewish birthrates rising and Muslim birthrates in Israel falling. That follows reports of declining Muslim birthrates around the world.
And if the two-state solution has any relevance as a means of solving the demographic problem, then areas from which Israel has withdrawn, like Gaza, home to 1-1.4 million Arabs (depending on the source), must be excluded from the count.
But even if the numbers are as bad as is claimed, Palestinian statehood is not necessarily the required policy response. The demographic predictions relate to a future reality, not reality as it stands today. At most they mean that at a future point Israel would have to withdraw from Judea and Samaria, but not before then.
In the meantime, Israel, with the immense powers of statehood at its disposal, has the opportunity to change the demographic situation by enacting policies which will increase the Jewish majority. Perhaps the most obvious of these tools would be kickstarting the engine that created the existing Jewish population: immigration.
There are today millions of Jews residing in Western countries. Hundreds of thousands in Europe enduring Muslim violence and struggling economies. Even in the US, numerous young Jews can’t find work in their chosen professions and are open to alternative life plans. Israel must tell them that it wants them and it should offer significant incentives to get them to come here.