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Jewish and Arab Populations Approach Parity in Holy Land


A Catholic faithful holds palm fronds during a Palm Sunday procession on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, March 25, 2018.
A Catholic faithful holds palm fronds during a Palm Sunday procession on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, March 25, 2018.

Israeli officials say that the number of Jews and Arabs in the Holy Land is at or near parity, a development many believe is significant for the future of Israel's democracy and the elusive Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

The population statistics for the territory, roughly located between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, were cited in an Israeli parliamentary statement on Monday and are being studied closely by Israelis, as well as Palestinians, because of possible political implications.

As Israel approaches the 70th anniversary of its declaration of independence on May 14, its relationship with the Palestinians is far from resolved. Leaders of the Jewish state have stalled on a two-state solution, which would give Arabs a separate state. But many also reject the annexation of Palestinian territories.

"Can you imagine that in addition to the ultra-Orthodox (Jews) poor people, the Muslim population in Israel are poor people, will annex another 5 million poor people,” asked Haifa University demographer Arnon Soffer. "It is to commit suicide. We cannot afford it."

An Israeli parliamentary statement on Monday said that the West Bank has an estimated population of at least 2.5 million. With the addition of close to 2 million Palestinians in Gaza, and almost 2 million in Israel, the total figure of Arabs in the area approaches the number of Jews in Israel, which is about 6.5 million.

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Arab, Jewish Population Close to Parity in Holy Land
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​Israeli settlers in the West Bank dispute the figures cited by Israel's Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), saying they are inflated. But according to a Palestinian census, the number of Arabs in the area is even higher than Israeli officials cite.

The demographics pose a dilemma for Israel. Ahmad Tibi, an Israeli-Arab lawmaker, said without the creation of a Palestinian state, Israel may head toward a one-state solution, in which Arabs will not be a minority. That means, Tibi said, that Israel will have to choose between being a Jewish state or a democracy.

"This is the challenge for the international community: to put pressure for implementing the two-state solution, putting an end to occupation, or we are going to that direction — apartheid, or an Arab-Palestinian prime minister in the future."

Some Israeli scholars, including Soffer, warn that annexing the occupied territories would mean the end of the Jewish state.

"I insist that the moment we will annex the West Bank and Gaza, we will be [the] minority, and this is the end of the Zionist dream. I repeat again: to annex the West Bank or Gaza together is the end of the Jewish state."

The alternative would be to deny Arabs a right to vote in a Jewish state, which would mean the end of democracy in Israel.

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