Growth trends and population forecasts have played a significant role in the political landscape of the Middle East, especially over the thorny question of Israel and the disputed territories.
The notion that the Jewish majority of Israel is in danger of being swamped by Arab fertility has repeatedly been used as a political and psychological weapon to extract territorial concessions from the Israeli government. In September 2010, U.S. president Barack Obama referred to the so-called “hard realities of demography” that threaten the survival of the Jewish state.
Such a conclusion is wrong. Analysis of long-term demographic developments leads to quite the opposite conclusion: In the long run, a strong Jewish majority, not only in the state of Israel—as this author projected almost twenty-five years ago and the Israel Central Bureau of Statistics recently reaffirmed—but also in the Land of Israel is quite possible.
Middle East Population Annual Growth
It is useful to analyze the processes among world populations in general and in the Middle East and the Arab world in particular. Such scrutiny helps to determine whether demographic trends within the Jewish and Arab population groups living in the Land of Israel differ or resemble the general tendencies observable within the global population over the last sixty plus years, the same general time frame as that of the state of Israel.
Beginning in 1966, the annual population growth in the Middle East rose consistently until it peaked at 3.24 percent in 1980 when it began to ebb—at a faster pace than in the developed world. In the subsequent thirty-two years, the Middle East population increase has gone down by more than a half, to 1.45 percent in 2012.
During that same period, the annual growth rate of the Jewish population in Israel was much higher than in developed countries, largely due to the ongoing repatriation of Jews from various countries to Israel. For the same reason, the annual increase of the Israeli Jewish population was, for the most part, higher than the population in less-developed countries. During the times of mass immigration to Israel, the Jewish growth rate was also significantly higher than the aggregated growth rate of Middle Eastern countries.
Since 2003, the annual increase of Jewish Israelis has grown steadily from 1.48 percent to 1.81 percent while the aggregated annual increase of the Middle Eastern countries has decreased to 1.45 percent.
Population Changes among Israelis
After reaching its all-time peak of 2.89 percent in 1951, the natural increase rate of Israeli Jews began to decline, dropping to 1.07 percent by 1995. This sharp decrease was due to the influx of close to 600,000 Jews from the former Soviet Union in 1990-95, which paradoxically lowered the natural increase rate for the Jewish population as it took approximately five years for the new citizens to settle in properly and start families. Thus, despite a lowered natural increase rate, the Jewish population grew in total by 24 percent. By 1995, the total fertility rate of these new Israeli citizens increased, reaching 1.72 children per woman (compared to 2.66 for native-born Israelis), presumably due to their successful absorption into the larger society as well as a continued influx of others from the former Soviet Union along with Ethiopian immigrants during the 1980s and 1990s. Beginning in 1996, the natural increase rate of Israeli Jews has trended upward, rising to 1.5 percent in 2010, increasing by 25.2 percent in one decade. The same natural increase rate of Israeli Jews was also maintained in 2011 and 2012.
At the same time, the trend for Israeli Arabs has moved in the opposite direction. Having reached a peak of 4.41 percent in 1964—a figure significantly higher than that of the rest of the Arab world —the natural increase rate of the Israeli Arabs declined by 37.2 percent from 1964 to 1987. Furthermore, while the natural increase rate for Israeli Jews rose by 41.6 percent from 1995 to 2012, the Arab natural increase rate declined during the same time by 30.6 percent, with the rate in 2012 at its lowest level since 1955.
The main reason for such decline is the rapid decrease in Arab birth rates from 36.4 births per 1,000 in 1998 to 24.7 births in 2012. While the Arab mortality rate also dropped from 3.37 deaths per 1,000 in 1995 to 2.69 in 2010, it has risen to 2.78 deaths per 1,000 in 2012.
Population Age Structure
These demographic developments have an impact on the proportion of Israeli Jews versus Israeli Arabs. As a result of declining fertility, significant changes in the age structure of the Israeli Arab population have taken place during the past fifteen years.
For example, in 2000, the number of Israeli Arabs born was 39,579 (including 34,667 Muslims). By 2012, the number of Israeli Arab newborns was 40,080 (35,730 Muslim). The number of children born within the Jewish population rose from 90,900 in 2000 to 125,492 in 2012 and in the expanded Jewish population, which includes Jews, any population not classified by religion, and non-Arab Christians, from 94,327 to 130,460 in 2012. Thus the share of babies born to Jews increased from 67.9 percent in 2000 to 73.6 percent and of expanded Jewish population from 70.4 percent to 76.5 percent in 2012.
Taking a broader view, the number of Jewish children in the 0-4 age cohort rose by 26.7 percent while that of Arab children in this group rose by a mere 1.9 percent. Thus, the share of Jewish toddlers within the general population increased from 68.2 to 72.8 percent and of the expanded Jewish population from 70.7 to 75.6 percent in 2012.
The shape of the age structure presented in Figure 3 clearly shows that the younger the age, the more the number of Jews increases while the number of Arabs either decreases or remains stable.
While in 2012 there were 81,600 21-year-old Jews (86,300 expanded Jewish population), their number steadily and continuously grew for the younger ages: 125,492 Jewish babies (130,460 for expanded Jewish population) born in 2012. By contrast, there were 31,100 21-year-old Arabs and 40,080 newly born Arabs in 2012—a smaller relative increase than their Jewish counterparts.
There were 98,100 Jews (or 2.38 per every Arab) at the age of “9” when the Arab population reached its peak for all ages—41,300 people. When checking this proportion of each age group down to age “0”, this ratio continuously increases, up to 3.13 Jews for every Arab at the “age 0” group.
The share of Jews among the “0” age group reached 73.6 percent compared to the lowest share of 67.4 percent at the age of “11.” The expanded Jewish population among age group “0” reached 76.5 percent (compared to the 70.4 percent at the age of “11”), or 3.25 children for every Arab child. Such developments started influencing the Israeli education system because the share of Hebrew education pupils among all pupils in the first grade began increasing in the 2008-09 school year. Taking into account the numbers of babies born in 2012, there will be at least 76.5 percent Hebrew-education first-grade pupils in the 2018-19 school year. The addition of the children of new immigrants (olim) will enhance this proportion still further.
Another way to look at the population dynamics of the two groups is to examine the other end of the aging spectrum. Israel’s Jewish population share of the 65+ age group was 88.5 percent (91.8 percent for expanded Jewish population) in 2012 versus 8.2 percent for the Arabs. Taking into consideration that the 45-75 age group of 2012 will belong to the 65+ age group of 2032, the share of the Jews in this age group would diminish to 81.7 percent (86.5 percent for expanded Jewish population), while the share of Arabs would increase to 13.5 percent, 64.8 percent larger than it was in 2012. The share of the Israeli Muslims at the 65+ age group will increase even more drastically, by 75.5 percent, from 6 percent in 2012 to 10.5 percent in 2032. In other words, during the last ten years, the share of Israeli Jews versus Israeli Arabs within the overall young Israeli population has increased, indicating that the Jewish population has started to become younger while the Israeli Arab population is getting older. With existing life expectancies factored in, the natural aging of Israeli Arab “baby boomers” will significantly increase their mortality level over the next two decades, causing an accelerating decline in the overall Arab natural increase rate.
Continuation of current trends will result in a convergence in 2025 of the natural increase rate for Jews and Arabs in Israel. For the first time in the modern history of the Land of Israel, the Arab natural increase rate may not be higher but rather equal to the natural increase rate of the Jews. Given the possibility of continued Jewish immigration, one can expect an intensification of the steadily rising Jewish share of the total population of the Land of Israel.
This trend becomes even more pronounced when studying the population of Judea, Samaria, and Gaza, which until recently had been under Israeli administration and is now either part of the Palestinian Authority—dominated by the Palestine Liberation Organization—or a quasi-independent Hamas enclave.
Under the Israeli administration (1967-93), the natural increase rate of the Arabs of Judea, Samaria, and Gaza Strip rose markedly from 2.52 percent in 1965 to peak at 4.21 percent in 1989. However, over the next two decades, it declined noticeably to 2.88 percent in 2012.  It appears that the decline in the Palestinian natural increase rate in Judea and Samaria is accelerating even faster than among Israeli Arabs.
Combined with a massive emigration of Arab youth from these territories, especially from Judea and Samaria, the size of the younger age group will be reduced and coincidentally, the elderly age cohort of the population will increase, resulting in an increased mortality rate in the near future. Following these trends, the natural increase rate of Arabs in Judea and Samaria will be decreasing even faster.
Migration Balance and Population Annual Growth
Any proper analysis of demographic developments in the Land of Israel must take into account the critical role of the migration balance. Aliya—Jewish repatriation—has been a significant factor in narrowing the difference between Jewish and Arab natural increase rates. For example, while in 1990, the natural increase rate for Jews was equal to only 1.29 percent, their annual growth, due to immigration, was 6.18 percent, more than twice as high as the Arab natural increase for that year.
From 2008 to 2011, Jewish immigration to Israel rose 30 percent. An analysis of immigration patterns reveals some surprising data about the countries of origin of these émigrés and points to future developments with important consequences.
In 2010, Israel ranked 15 out of 169 on the Human Development Index (HDI)—a comparative measure used to rank countries by life expectancy, education levels, and standard of living. While about a million and a quarter Jews live in twenty countries with an HDI lower than Israel, another eight countries with significant Jewish populations (about 6,500,000) have a higher HDI than Israel.
In 2000-10, 284,907 new immigrants moved to Israel alongside 44,639 returning expatriates. Not surprisingly, about 87 percent of the newcomers came from countries with an HDI lower than Israel’s—59.4 percent of all repatriates came from the former Soviet Union, 10.2 percent from Ethiopia, and 4.1 percent from Argentina. Only 13.5 percent came from countries with a higher HDI such as the United States or France. Yet in the first ten months of 2011, the largest growth of repatriation to Israel (compared to the previous decade) came from countries with a higher HDI: Their share of the total immigrant population more than doubled. Twenty-nine percent of these immigrants came from eight developed countries, 14.6 percent from the United States and 10.3 percent from France.
It may very well be that a combination of factors contributed to this change. The recent world economic crisis may be one. According to Reuters: “Employees of universities and researchers are among the biggest sufferers of economic slowdown in the United States … As a result, universities are cutting their budgets and staff, and many researchers are going home.”
The other likely contributor is a rising wave of anti-Semitism, especially in Western Europe. According to Benjamin Jacobs, Holland’s chief rabbi, “the future for Dutch Jewry is moving to Israel.” Relentless harassment in the south Swedish city of Malmö has driven most of its Jewish population out of the city, or even the country. Recent years also have seen increasing numbers of Jews moving to Israel from France and the United Kingdom. There have been reports of Muslims assaulting Jews in Norway and Denmark and stone-tossing Arabs driving Jewish dancers from a stage in Germany. A recent poll found that 38 percent of Muslim youth in Austria agree that “Hitler had done a lot of good for the people.”
A spring 2008 survey by the Pew Research Center’s Pew Global Attitudes Project finds
46% of the Spanish rating Jews unfavorably. More than a third of Russians (34%) and Poles (36%) echo this view. Somewhat fewer, but still significant numbers of the Germans (25%) and French (20%) interviewed also express negative opinions of Jews. These percentages are all higher than obtained in comparable Pew surveys taken in recent years. In a number of countries, the increase has been especially notable between 2006 and 2008.
This situation has brought increasing numbers of Jews to Israel. According to data from 2012 published by the Israeli Ministry of Immigrant Absorption, the majority of olim continued to come from Europe (10,088, 49.4 percent of all immigrants), and the numbers rose by 30 percent in 2008-12.
The immigration from France with 1,923 individuals (9.4 percent of all immigrants) in 2012 remained steadily in third place from Europe after Russia (3,566, 17.5 percent of all immigrants) and Ukraine (2,100, 10.3 percent). Former USSR countries accounted for 35.9 percent of all immigrants to Israel in 2012. From 2008 through 2012, repatriation from Russia rose by 32.4 percent and from Ukraine even more by 58.9 percent.
A significant number of immigrants came from the United Kingdom (641, 3.1 percent). Repatriation from Scandinavian countries rose by 65.8 percent and from Italy by 161.9 percent; the increase from Holland was 22.2 percent and from Belgium, 24.6 percent. However, the most impressive growth of immigration during these four years came from Spain, by 232.1 percent.
If these conditions persist, Israel may experience a substantial aliya wave into the near future, including an influx of skilled professionals, a welcome addition to Israel’s fast developing economy. The recent discoveries of huge gas deposits create an enormous momentum for the Israeli economy that is bound to change the geopolitical situation in the Middle East.
Many Israeli expatriates may also seriously consider returning to the Jewish state. During the years 2000-10, the number of returning Israelis was 21.3 percent higher than the previous decade. These developments would lead to a further increase in the annual growth of the Jewish population.
Of equal importance are emigration trends of the Arab population that began long before the 1967 Six-Day War. Demographer Justin McCarthy has estimated that about 200,000 Arabs emigrated from Judea and Samaria between 1949 and 1967. “After 1948, Palestinian high fertility and the limited economic potential of the land led to out-migration. The West Bank, in particular, had sizable out-migration from 1948 to 1967… emigration was now large-scale and directed mainly to the Arab world.” Migration rates from Gaza were much lower because until the 1960s, the Egyptian government, which controlled the territory, restricted emigration.
According to Mustafa Khawaja, director of the Jerusalem Statistical Department of the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS): “The net balance of arrivals and departures for the West Bank in the period 1967 to the present has been consistently negative, with an average of about 10,000 leaving annually … The main reason for migration by Palestinians relates to the economic factors resulting from the political instability and the infighting between the Palestinian parties.” This view is supported by journalist Khaled Abu Toameh who wrote in August 2002:
Approximately 80,000 Palestinians have left the West Bank and the Gaza Strip since the beginning of the year (a rise of 50 percent compared to last year), a senior Palestinian Authority official said Monday. The official … told The Jerusalem Post another 50,000 Palestinians are now trying to leave through the Jordan River bridges and the Rafah border crossing [between Gaza and Egypt].
Two years later, Egyptian journalist Bissan Edwan stated that “according to Jordan[ian] statistics, at least 150,000 Palestinians left the West Bank during the intifada years from 2000 to 2002 and did not return,” concluding that the economic situation in the Palestinian Authority territories could lead to new waves of emigration. She also dismissed the myth of a demographic time-bomb by noting that net Jewish migration offset the higher Palestinian natural increase and that better access to birth control lowered Palestinian fertility rates. The impact of out-migration was further reinforced by a 2006 poll published by An-Najah University in Nablus, which found that “one in three Palestinians wanted to emigrate. The 1,350 people surveyed in the West Bank and Gaza Strip cited dire economic conditions as the first reason, followed by lawlessness, political deadlock, and fears of civil war.”
Arab emigration from Judea and Samaria increased even more in 2007-09. During the first seven months of 2008, the Jordanian-Palestinian border-crossing point located near the Karame bridge registered a negative migration balance of 63,386 people while in the first eight months of 2009, there was reported a negative migration balance of 44,000 people.
World Bank figures also indicated a decrease in the size of the Palestinian population, by 0.45 percent in 2009 and by 0.37 percent in 2010. Thus, in 2009-10, the negative migration balance was higher than the natural increase of the Arab population in Judea, Samaria, and the Gaza Strip.
Population Projections for the Land of Israel
It is a well-documented fact that Palestinian population figures as well as Palestinian-supplied growth projections are seriously flawed, rife with double-counting, presumed (and unsubstantiated) mass immigration, inflated birth numbers, and deaths not counted. Considering those issues alongside the emigration trends should lead policymakers in Israel and abroad to a more nuanced view of demographic projections and decisions based upon them.
Consider the PCBS’ 2001 annual Statistical Abstract of Palestine. According to its projection, the Arab population in the Palestinian-administered territories would amount to 4,077,981 people in 2005, then increase to 5,027,580 in 2010, to 5,354,988 in 2012, and finally to 6,632,439 in 2020. In fact, at the end of 2005, the actual PCBS population estimate was lower by 315,976 persons than the PCBS projection published just four years earlier.
In December 2006, the PCBS proclaimed that the “Palestinian population and the Jewish population [east of the Jordan river] will be equal in 2010 … the Palestinian population will increase to 5.7 million in mid-2010.” The reality was different: At the end of 2010, the PCBS issued a press release claiming that there were actually 4,108,631 Arabs in Palestinian-administered territories, 918,949 less than it had projected in 2001. Similarly, a PCBS press release on December 31, 2012, estimated the Arab population at 4.4 million, a number smaller by 955,000 than it had previously predicted.
The recent PCBS projection made at the end of 2012 stated that “the number of Palestinians in historical Palestine will total 7.2 million compared to 6.9 million Jews by the end of 2020.” According to the recent Israel Central Bureau of Statistics projection, there will be about 1.9 million Israeli Arabs in 2020. Reducing this figure from the PCBS projection for all Arab population in historical Palestine in 2020 gives 5.3 million Arabs in Palestinian-administered territories. This estimate is 1,362,439 less than projected by PCBS in 2001.
But projections from Palestinian sources are not the only forecasts that need to be adjusted. In October 2007, this author prepared a demographic projection of the Israeli population based on observable trends since the founding of the Jewish state. The resulting numbers, 12,805,000 persons in 2050, fell somewhere between two U.N. population projections—11,942,000 using the high forecast variant and 13,064,000 using the constant fertility rate variant.
The author’s projection was based on certain assumptions: That just as in each of the last 120 years, the annual growth of the Jewish population would consist of natural increase as well as immigration. Some of the predictions, however, proved to be far more conservative than what actually transpired. For example, in 2003-10, average annual growth was 14.7 percent higher than originally estimated. The 2007 report had also predicted that the natural increase rate of the Arab citizens of Israel would continue diminishing in the future. In fact, the natural increase rate of Israeli Arabs was 2.2 percent in 2012, 21.1 percent lower than assumed in 2007. In sum, based on the new data, the share of the Jewish population in Israel is expected to decrease to its lowest point of 79.2 percent in 2015, but starting in 2024 may begin to rise up to 81.8 percent of the total population in 2050 and to 83.2 percent by 2059.
Further, it is reasonable to conclude that an existing trend of growing natural increase in the Jewish non-ultra-Orthodox population will continue. This will likely be augmented by a positive migration balance since the majority of Jews living in the Diaspora are not ultra-Orthodox (Haredim).
There were apparently no Haredim among the immigrants from the former Soviet Union and just 4.5 percent of these declared themselves as religious. There were only 7.2 percent of Haredim and 14.8 percent of religious people among immigrants from Europe and the United States. Just 3.1 percent of immigrants from Asia and Africa declared themselves as Haredi and 26.4 percent declared themselves as religious. All in all, the Haredi share of 2012 immigrants could be estimated at 3.6 percent and of religious people at 10.4 percent.
This would be accompanied by an accelerating decline in the natural increase among the Haredi population. According to the ICBS, the total fertility rate (TFR) of the Haredim has declined by 14.3 percent in just six years from 7.62 children per woman in 2003 to 6.53 children per woman in 2009, back to the level that existed twenty-five years before in the middle of the 1980s. At the same time, the TFR of secular women rose by 8.9 percent from 1.90 children per woman in 2003 to 2.07 in 2009.
Likewise, from the beginning of the twenty-first century the TFR of Israeli Muslims decreased considerably, from 4.7 in 2000 to 3.5 children per woman in 2011. The TFR of all Arabs decreased still further to 3.3 children per woman, very close to the 3.09 for Jews born in Israel. In November 2011, a new comprehensive ICBS projection was published in which the government office admitted that in the past it had overestimated Israeli Arab fertility and underestimated Jewish fertility.
An updated version of the author’s 2007 projections for the population of the State of Israel (extended from 2050 to 2059) appears in Figure 6. The numbers are presented side by side with the ICBS’s second and third scenario projections.
According to the author’s forecast prepared in 2007, the Arab population in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza Strip would reach 2,496,000 in 2050. Extending the forecast for nine more years, this population could reach 2,761,500 people. Combined with the estimated population of the State of Israel, the total population of the Land of Israel would comprise some 19,487,000 people in 2059.
Based on these estimates, the expanded Jewish population share would be 83.19 percent of the population of the State of Israel and 71.4 percent of the total population of the Land of Israel in 2059.
Population growth for the Land of Israel at the end of the second decade of the twenty-first century will be influenced by the Arab and Jewish natural increase rates reaching a convergence point based on similar live birth and mortality rates. It will also likely be influenced by continued Jewish immigration, including a new, possibly strong wave in the near future following the prolonged world economic crisis and manifestations of rising anti-Semitism around the globe. Repatriation will also be encouraged if the Israeli economy continues to be strong in the near future, an increased likelihood based in part on the huge gas and shale oil fields recently discovered in Israel. The share of Jews in the total population of the Land of Israel may also increase as a result of continued Arab emigration that may include Israeli Arabs as well. According to the results of the first-ever survey on political-social attitudes of Arab youth in Israel, conducted by the Baladna Association for Arab Youth and the Mada al-Carmel Arab Center for Applied Social Research, both in Haifa, 25 percent of the Arab youth in Israel want to emigrate.
Every country has a natural and objective carrying capacity limit for the population living on its territory and, in this respect, Israel is no different than any other. With that in mind, demographic projections can and should be used as a tool for planning by the state as well as by municipalities to avoid mistakes that can damage vital infrastructure and public services, such as health, education, and welfare systems. Ignoring the impressive demographic changes of the last twenty years in Israel has produced heavy burdens on Israel’s health system due to a lack of hospital beds and a scarcity of medical personnel. Overpopulated classrooms and a lack of qualified teachers is another such consequence. Similarly, lower than necessary construction starts in the residential sector is causing pain for young couples.
Developing proper demographic policies can be important tools for planning national security needs to assure internal order and the security of the state’s borders. Jerusalem must bear in mind that without developing such a professional, comprehensive, and long-term demographic policy, it will be very difficult to reach the vital goals of assuring a stable and secure future for generations to come.
Yakov Faitelson is the author of Demographic Trends in the Land of Israel, 1800-2007 (Israeli Institute for Zionist Strategies, 2008).
 NBC News, Sept. 23, 2010.
 Dan Petreanu, “Demography: Men or Myth,” The Jerusalem Post, Aug. 16, 1988, quoted in Yakov Faitelson, “‘Demography: Men or Myth‘ – 24 years later,” Apr. 4, 2012.
 The Jerusalem Post, June 25, 2013.
 The term “Land of Israel” is used here to denote the areas of Mandatory Palestine west of the Jordan River, namely, the territories constituting the State of Israel as well as Judea and Samaria (the “West Bank”) and the Gaza Strip.
 “Annual Growth Rate Percent, Near East Countries, U.N. Regions,” U.S. Census Bureau, International Programs, International Data Base, accessed Mar. 12, 2013.
 Dominique Tabutin and Bruno Schoumaker, “The Demography of the Arab World and the Middle East from 1950 to the 2000s. A Survey of Changes and a Statistical Assessment,” Population, 2005/5-6, Institute de démographie, Université catholique de Louvain, Louvain-la-Neuve, pp. 505-615.
 “Table 13: Jewish Population, by Sex and Age (1948, 1951, 1954, 1956),” Statistical Abstracts of Israel, 1956 (Jerusalem and Tel Aviv: Israel Central Bureau of Statistics, [hereafter ICBS], 1956), p. 19; “Table B/13: Jewish Population, by Sex and Age (1948-1965),” Statistical Abstracts of Israel, 1966 (ICBS, 1966), p. 38.
 “Table B/1: Population, by Population Group,” Monthly Bulletin of Statistics, May 2013 (ICBS, June 6, 2013), p. 4.
 Petra Nahmias, “Fertility behaviour of recent immigrants to Israel: A comparative analysis of immigrants from Ethiopia and the former Soviet Union,” Demographic Research, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, Mar. 17, 2004, pp. 83-120.
 The average number of children that would be born alive to a woman during her lifetime.
 Statistical Abstracts of Israel, 2002 (ICBS, 2002), st3.02; Statistical Abstracts of Israel, 2001 (ICBS, 2001), st3.01.
 Statistical Abstracts of Israel, 2012 (ICBS, 2012), st3.01; “C. Vital Statistics,” Monthly Bulletin of Statistics-February 2013 (ICBS, Mar. 7, 2013).
 “Statistic Tables for Live and Death Rates by Population Group,” Yearbook of Statistical Abstracts of Israel, 1955-2010 (ICBS, 2010).
 “World Development Indicators: Birth Rate, Crude,” World Bank, Washington, D.C., accessed Mar. 7, 2013; “World Development Indicators: Death Rate, Crude,” idem, accessed Mar. 7, 2013.
 Statistical Abstracts of Israel, 2001, st2.18.
 “C. Vital Statistics,” Monthly Bulletin of Statistics-February 2013.
 Statistical Abstracts of Israel, 2001, st02.20; Statistical Abstracts of Israel, 2011 (ICBS, 2011), st02.21.
 “Demographic Characteristics of the Arab Population in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza, 1968-1993, #1025,” ICBS, July 1996, p. 15.
 “World Development Indicators: Birth Rate, Crude,” World Bank, Washington, D.C., accessed Mar. 7, 2013; “World Development Indicators: Death Rate, Crude,” idem, accessed Mar. 7, 2013.
 “Emigration and Tourism, Table E/2: Immigrants by Type of Permit,” Monthly Bulletin of Statistics, ICBS, no. 11/2011, p. 143.
 “Table 1: Human Development Index and Its Components,” Human Development Report 2010, U.N. Development Programme, New York, p. 143.
 Sergio DellaPergola, Jewish Demographic Policies: Population Trends and Options in Israel and in the Diaspora (Jerusalem: The Jewish People Policy Institute, 2011), p. 61.
 “Immigrants by Type of Visa,” Statistical Abstracts of Israel, 2011, st04.03.
 “Immigrants, by Period of Immigration, Country of Birth and Last Country of Residence,” Statistical Abstracts of Israel, 2011, st04.04.
 Ynet News (Tel Aviv), Jan. 22, 2012.
 “Interview with Holland’s Chief Rabbi: Dutch Anti-Semitism,” Arutz Sheva (Beit El and Petah Tikva), July 4, 2010.
 YNet News, May 21, 2013.
 Fox News, June 24, 2010.
 David J. Rusin, “The Slow-Motion Exodus of European Jews,” FrontPage Magazine (Sherman Oaks, Calif.), Jan. 7, 2011.
 “Unfavorable Views of Jews and Muslims on the Increase in Europe,” PEW Research Center Project, Sept. 17, 2008.
 “Statistics,” Ministry of Immigrant Absorption, Tel Aviv, accessed June 17, 2013.
 Justin McCarthy, “Palestine’s Population during the Ottoman and the British Mandate Periods: Migration,” PalestineRemembered.com, Sept. 8, 2001.
 Mustafa Khawaja, “Highly-skilled into, through and from the southern and eastern Mediterranean and sub Saharan Africa. The Case of Palestine,” Robert Shuman Centre for Advanced Studies and the European University Institute, San Domenico di Fiesole, Italy, 2010, p. 8.
 The Jerusalem Post, Aug. 26, 2002.
 Bissan Edwan, “al-Qanbala ad-Dymoghrafiah fi Israil wa-Khidaal-Nafs,” Apr. 16, 2004.
 Reuters, Nov. 22, 2006.
 Khawaja, “The Case of Palestine,” p. 3.
 “Population Growth (annual %): West Bank and Gaza,” World Bank, Washington, D.C., accessed June 7, 2013.
 Bennet Zimmerman, Roberta Seid, and Michael L. Wise, “The Million Person Gap. The Arab Population in the West Bank and Gaza,” Mideast Security and Policy Studies, no. 65, The Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, Bar-Ilan University, Ramat Gan, Feb. 2006.
 “Palestinians in the Palestinian Territory (West Bank and Gaza Strip): 3.2 Population,” Statistical Abstract of Palestine, No. 2, Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (hereafter, PCBS), Ramallah; “Table 3.2.1: Projected Population in the Palestinian Territory in the End Year by Region, 1997-2024,” PCBS, Nov. 2001, p. 470.
 Annual Report for 2005, Population and Demography, Health Status in Palestine 2005 (Ramallah: Ministry of Health-Palestinian Health Information Center, Oct. 2006), p. 1.
 “Palestinians at the End of Year 2006,” PCBS, Dec. 2006, p. 11.
 “Palestinians at the End of 2010: Table 2: Estimated Number of Palestinians in the Palestinian Territory by Status and Region,” PCBS, Dec. 30, 2010, p. 34.
 “Palestinians at the End of 2012,” PCBS, Dec. 2012, p. 1.
 Ibid., p. 3.
 Yakov Faitelson, “The Demographic Forecasts for the Population of the Land of Israel and the Reality (1898-2005),” Proceedings of the Fifteenth Annual International Conference on Jewish Studies, Part 1: State of Israel, 60 Years of History (Moscow: Moscow Center for University Teaching of Jewish Civilization “Sefer,” Institute for Slavic Studies, 2008), p. 68; idem, “Demographic Trends in the Land of Israel (1800-2007), accessed Mar. 7, 2013, p. 47-70; idem, Table 1: Comparison of Forecasts for Citizens of the State of Israel up until 2050, “Demographic Forecast Scenarios until 2050,” The Institute for Zionist Strategies, Jerusalem, 2008.
 High-fertility assumption: Under the high variant, fertility is projected to remain .5 children above the fertility in the medium variant over most of the projection period. That is, countries reaching a total fertility of 1.85 children per woman in the medium variant have a total fertility of 2.35 children per woman in the high variant at the end of the projection period. Constant-fertility assumption: fertility remains constant at the level estimated for 2000-05.
 Faitelson, “Demographic Trends in the Land of Israel (1800-2007),” accessed Mar. 7, 2013, p. 50-3.
 According to a comprehensive survey conducted by the ICBS in 2009, 8 percent of Israeli Jews defined themselves as Haredi, 12 percent as religious, 13 percent as traditional religious, 25 percent as less traditional religious, 27 percent as not so religious, and 18 percent as nonreligious. See Seker hevrati 2009. Pirsum mispar 1433. B. mimtsaim ikariim. a. datiyut umeafienim demografiim uhevratiim kalkaliim beisrael (bnei 20 umala), ICBS Social Survey 2009, no. 1433, Jerusalem, Apr. 2011, p. 13.
 Ahmad Hleihel, “Fertility among Jewish and Muslim Women in Israel by Level of Religiosity, 1979-2009,” ICBS, Working Paper Series, no. 60, June 2011, pp. 32-4.
 Ibid., p. 15; “Fertility rates, Average Age of Mother and Sex Ratio at Birth, by selected characteristics of the mother. Muslims. 2011,” Statistical Abstracts of Israel, 2011, Table 3.14.
 “Fertility rates, Average Age of Mother and Sex Ratio at Birth, by selected characteristics of the mother. Israeli born. 2011,” Statistical Abstracts of Israel, 2011, Table 3.14.
 Ari Paltiel, Michell Spulker, Irene Kornilenko, and Martin Maldonado, “Tahaziot Haukhlusiyah le-Yisrael Letvah Arokh: 2009-2059,” Demography and Census Dept., Jerusalem, Nov. 30, 2011.
 Ynet News, Apr. 22, 2004.
 “The Physician Shortage in Israel,” Israeli Medical Association, Tel Aviv, May 2011.
 Karen L. Berman, “Israel Must Overhaul Education System,” Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Mar. 29, 2012.
 Ron Diller, “What happened to affordable housing in Israel?” The Jerusalem Post, May 8, 2010.
The Absence of Riyadh in the Turbulent Afghanistan
As the situation in Afghanistan becoming increasingly turbulent, the NATO allies led by the United States are fully focused on military withdrawal. As this has to be done within tight deadline, there have been some disagreements between the United States and the European Union. Josep Borrell, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security, publicly accused the U.S. military in Afghanistan, which was responsible for the internal security of Kabul Airport, of deliberately obstructing the EU evacuation operations.
China and Russia on the other hand, are more cautious in expressing their positions while actively involving in the Afghanistan issue. This is especially true for Russia, which after both the Taliban and the anti-Taliban National Resistance Front of Afghanistan (NRF) led by Ahmad Massoud have pleaded Russia for mediation, Moscow has now become a major player in the issue.
Compared with these major powers, Saudi Arabia, another regional power in the Middle East, appears to be quite low-key. So far, only the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Saudi Arabia has issued a diplomatic statement on the day after the Taliban settled in Kabul, stating that it hopes the Taliban can maintain the security, stability and prosperity of Afghanistan. Considering the role that Saudi Arabia has played in Afghanistan, such near silent treatment is quite intriguing.
As the Taliban were originally anti-Soviet Sunni Jihadists, they were deeply influenced by Wahhabism, and were naturally leaning towards Riyadh. During the period when the Taliban took over Afghanistan for the first time, Saudi Arabia became one of the few countries in the international community that publicly recognized the legitimacy of the Taliban regime.
Although the Taliban quickly lost its power under the impact of the anti-terror wars initiated by the George W. Bush administration, and the Saudis were pressured by Washington to criticize the Taliban on the surface, yet in reality they continuously provided financial aid to the Taliban and the Al-Qaeda organization which was in symbiotic relations with the Taliban.
However, after 2010, with the Syrian civil war and the rise of the Islamic State, the Riyadh authorities had decreased their funding for their “partners” in Afghanistan due to the increase in financial aid targets.
In June 2017, after Mohammed bin Salman became the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia and took power, Saudi Arabia’s overall foreign policy began to undergo major changes. It gradually abandoned the policy of exporting its religious ideology and switched to “religious diplomacy” that focuses on economic, trade and industrial cooperation with main economies. Under such approach, Saudi Arabia’s Afghanistan policy will inevitably undergo major adjustments.
With the reformation initiated by the Crown Prince, Saudi Arabia has drastically reduced its financial aid to the Taliban. In addition, Riyadh also further ordered the Taliban to minimize armed hostilities and put its main energy on the path of “peaceful nation-building”. This sudden reversal of the stance of Saudi Arabia means that Riyadh has greatly weakened the voices of the Taliban in the global scenes.
In recent years, the Taliban have disassociated with Saudi Arabia in rounds of Afghanistan peace talks. After Kabul was taken over by the Taliban on August 19, a senior Taliban official clearly stated that the Taliban does not accept Wahhabism, and Afghanistan has no place for Wahhabism. Although this statement means that Al-Qaeda’s religious claims will no longer be supported by the Taliban, it also indicates that the Taliban has reached the tipping point of breaking up with Riyadh.
Under such circumstance, for the Riyadh authorities under Mohammed bin Salman, the most appropriate action is probably wait-and-see as Afghanistan changes again.
Gulf security: It’s not all bad news
Gulf states are in a pickle.
They fear that the emerging parameters of a reconfigured US commitment to security in the Middle East threaten to upend a more-than-a-century-old pillar of regional security and leave them with no good alternatives.
The shaky pillar is the Gulf monarchies’ reliance on a powerful external ally that, in the words of Middle East scholar Roby C. Barrett, “shares the strategic, if not dynastic, interests of the Arab States.” The ally was Britain and France in the first half of the 20th century and the United States since then.
Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al-Nahyan, the revered founder of the United Arab Emirates, implicitly recognised Gulf states’ need for external support when he noted in a 2001 contribution to a book that the six monarchies that form the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) “only support the GCC when it suited them.”
Going forward question marks about the reliability of the United States may be unsettling but the emerging contours of what a future US approach could look like they are not all bad news from the perspective of the region’s autocratic regimes.
The contours coupled with the uncertainty, the Gulf states’ unwillingness to integrate their defence strategies, a realisation that neither China nor Russia would step into the United States’ shoes, and a need to attract foreign investment to diversify their energy-dependent economies, is driving efforts to dial down regional tensions and strengthen regional alliances.
Israeli foreign minister Yair Lapid and Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, his UAE counterpart, are headed to Washington this week for a tripartite meeting with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. The three officials intend “to discuss accomplishments” since last year’s establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries “and other important issues,” Mr Blinken tweeted.
The Israeli foreign ministry suggested those other issues include “further opportunities to promote peace in the Middle East” as well as regional stability and security, in a guarded reference to Iran.
From the Gulf’s perspective, the good news is also that the Biden administration’s focus on China may mean that it is reconfiguring its military presence in the Middle East with the moving of some assets from the Gulf to Jordan and the withdrawal from the region of others, but is not about to pull out lock, stock and barrel.
Beyond having an interest in ensuring the free flow of trade and energy, the US’s strategic interest in a counterterrorism presence in the Gulf has increased following the US withdrawal from Afghanistan. The US now relies on an ’over the horizon’ approach for which the Middle East remains crucial.
Moreover, domestic US politics mitigate towards a continued, if perhaps reduced, military presence even if Americans are tired of foreign military adventures, despite the emergence of a Biden doctrine that de-emphasises military engagement. Moreover, the Washington foreign policy elite’s focus is now on Asia rather than the Middle East.
Various powerful lobbies and interest groups, including Jews, Israelis, Gulf states, Evangelists, and the oil and defence industries retain a stake in a continued US presence in the region. Their voices are likely to resonate louder in the run-up to crucial mid-term Congressional elections in 2022. A recent Pew Research survey concluded that the number of white Evangelicals had increased from 25 per cent of the US population in 2016 to 29 per cent in 2020.
Similarly, like Afghanistan, the fading hope for a revival of the 2015 international agreement to curb Iran’s nuclear programme, from which former President Donald J. Trump withdrew in 2018, and the risk of a major military conflagration makes a full-fledged US military withdrawal unlikely any time soon. It also increases the incentive to continue major arms sales to Gulf countries.
That’s further good news for Gulf regimes against the backdrop of an emerging US arms sales policy that the Biden administration would like to project as emphasising respect for human rights and rule of law. However, that de facto approach is unlikely to affect big-ticket prestige items like the F-35 fighter jets promised to the UAE.
Instead, the policy will probably apply to smaller weapons such as assault rifles and surveillance equipment, that police or paramilitary forces could use against protesters. Those are not the technological edge items where the United States has a definitive competitive advantage.
The big-ticket items with proper maintenance and training would allow Gulf states to support US regional operations as the UAE and Qatar did in 2011 in Libya, and, the UAE in Somalia and Afghanistan as part of peacekeeping missions.
In other words, the Gulf states can relax. The Biden administration is not embracing what some arms trade experts define as the meaning of ending endless wars such as Afghanistan.
“Ending endless war means more than troop withdrawal. It also means ending the militarized approach to foreign policy — including the transfer of deadly weapons around the world — that has undermined human rights and that few Americans believe makes the country any safer,” the experts said in a statement in April.
There is little indication that the views expressed in the statement that stroke with thinking in the progressive wing of Mr. Biden’s Democratic Party is taking root in the policymaking corridors of Washington. As long as that doesn’t happen, Gulf states have less to worry about.
Reducing Middle East tensions potentially lessens sectarianism and opens doors for women
Two separate developments involving improved relations between Sunni and Shiite Muslims and women’s sporting rights demonstrate major shifts in how rivalry for leadership of the Muslim world and competition to define Islam in the 21st century is playing out in a world in which Middle Eastern states can no longer depend on the United States coming to their defence.
The developments fit into a regional effort by conservative, status quo states, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt; and proponents of different forms of political Islam, Iran, Turkey, and Qatar; to manage rather than resolve their differences in a bid to ensure that they do not spin out of control. The efforts have had the greatest success with the lifting in January of a 3.5-year-long Saudi-UAE-Egyptian-led diplomatic and economic boycott of Qatar.
The reconciliation moves also signal the pressure on Middle Eastern players in what amounts to a battle for the soul of Islam to change perceptions of the region as being wracked by civil wars, sectarian tensions, extremism, jihadism, and autocracy. Altering that perception is key to the successful implementation of plans to diversify oil and gas export dependent economies in the Gulf, develop resource-poor countries in the region, tackle an economic crisis in Turkey, and enable Iran to cope with crippling US sanctions.
Finally, these developments are also the harbinger of the next phase in the competition for religious soft power and leadership of the Muslim world. In a break with the past decade, lofty declarations extolling Islam’s embrace of tolerance, pluralism and respect for others’ rights that are not followed up by deeds no longer cut ice. Similarly, proponents of socially conservative expressions of political Islam need to be seen as adopting degrees of moderation that so far have been the preserve of their rivals who prefer the geopolitical status quo ante.
That next phase of the battle is being shaped not only by doubts among US allies in the Middle East about the reliability of the United States as a security guarantor, reinforced by America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan. It is also being informed by a realisation that neither China nor Russia can (or will) attempt to replace the US defence umbrella in the Gulf.
The battles’ shifting playing field is further being determined by setbacks suffered by political Islam starting with the 2013 military coup that toppled Mohammed Morsi, a Muslim Brother and Egypt’s first and only democratically elected president and brutally decimated the Muslim Brotherhood. More recently, political Islamists suffered a stunning electoral defeat in Morocco and witnessed the autocratic takeover of power in Tunisia by President Kais Saied.
A just published survey of Tunisian public opinion showed 45 percent of those polled blaming Rachid Ghannouchi, the leader of the Islamist Ennahada party, for the country’s crisis and 66 percent saying they had no confidence in the party.
The Middle East’s rivalries and shifting sands lend added significance to a planned visit in the coming weeks to Najaf, an Iraqi citadel of Shiite Muslim learning and home of 91-year-old Shiite religious authority, Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, by Ahmed El-Tayeb, the grand imam of Al-Azhar, Sunni Islam’s foremost historic educational institution.
The visit takes place against the backdrop of Iraqi-mediated talks between Saudi Arabia and Iran, the two major centres of Islam’s two main strands, that are aimed at dialling down tensions between them that reverberate throughout the Muslim world. The talks are likely to help the two regional powers manage rather than resolve their differences.
The rivalry was long marked by Saudi-inspired, religiously-cloaked anti-Shiite rhetoric and violence in a limited number of cases and Iranian concerns about the country’s Sunni minority and its opting for a strategy centred on Shiite Muslim proxies in third countries and support for the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Implicit in Saudi and Iranian sectarianism was the perception of Shiite minorities in Saudi Arabia and other Sunni majority countries, and Sunnis in Iran and Iraq after the 2003 toppling of Saddam Hussein, as fifth wheels of the other.
Imam El-Tayeb’s visit, a signal of improvement in long-strained Egyptian-Iraqi relations, as well as a possible later meeting between the Sunni cleric, a Shiite cleric other than Ayatollah Al-Sistani who is too old and fragile to travel, and Pope Francis, are intended to put sectarianism on the backburner. Ayatollah Al-Sistani met with the pope during his visit to Iraq in March.
The visit takes on added significance in the wake of this week’s suicide bombing of a Hazara Shiite mosque in the northern Afghan city of Kunduz that killed at least 50 people and wounded 100 others. The South Asian affiliate of the Islamic State, Islamic State-Khorasan, claimed responsibility for the attack, the worst since the Taliban came to power in August. It was likely designed to fuel tension between the Sunni Muslim group and the Hazara who account for 20 percent of the Afghan population.
Imam El-Tayeb’s travel to Najaf is likely to be followed by a visit by Mohamed al-Issa, secretary-general of the Saudi-dominated Muslim World League. The League was long a prime vehicle for the propagation of anti-Shiite Saudi ultra-conservatism. Since coming to office, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has recast the League as a tool to project his vaguely defined notion of a state-controlled ‘moderate’ Islam that is tolerant and pluralistic.
In a similar vein, hard-line Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi took many by surprise by allowing women into Tehran’s Azadi Stadium to attend this month’s World Cup qualifier between Iran and South Korea. Iran is the only country to ban women from attending men’s sporting events. It was unclear whether the move was a one-off measure or signalled a loosening or lifting of the ban.
Mr Raisi was believed to see it as a way to rally domestic support and improve the Islamic republic’s image as much in China and Russia as in the West. No doubt, Mr. Raisi will have noted that China and Russia have joined the United States, Europe, and others in pressuring the Taliban in Afghanistan to recognize women’s rights.
To be sure, women in Iran enjoy education rights and populate universities. They can occupy senior positions in business and government even if Iran remains a patriarchal society. However, the ban on women in stadia, coupled with the chador, the head to foot covering of women, has come to dominate the perception of Iran’s gender policies.
Allowing women to attend the World Cup qualifier suggests a degree of flexibility on Mr. Raisi’s part. During his presidential campaign Mr. Raisi argued that granting women access to stadiums would not solve their problems.
It also demonstrates that the government, with hardliners in control of all branches, can shave off sharp edges of its Islamic rule far easier than reformists like Mr. Raisi’s predecessor, Hassan Rouhani, were able to do.
The question is whether that is Mr. Raisi’s intention. Mr. Raisi may be testing the waters with this month’ soccer match, only time will tell.
It may be too big a leap in the immediate future but, like Imam El-Tayeb’s visit to Najaf, it indicates that the dialling down of regional tensions puts a greater premium on soft power which in turn builds up pressure for less harsh expressions of religion.
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