Threats and Helpful Realities in a Two-State Solution
Demographics — and how they are calculated — is yet another battleground in the Israeli-Palestinian debate. The number of Palestinians and Jewish Israelis living within Israel and the Palestinian Territories could have serious implications for the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state.
Why Demographics Matter
The major focus of the demographics debate is whether Jewish Israelis will continue to constitute a significant majority of the population within Israel and the Palestinian Territories (the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem). Israel has exercised various levels of control over the Territories since 1967.
Many within Israel and others argue that if Jewish Israelis no longer constitute a majority in the territory under Israeli control, then either Israel’s Jewish character or its democracy will be compromised. By this logic, if Israel were to rule over a non-Jewish majority without granting equal rights, then Israel would no longer be a democracy. But if Israel were to grant full democratic rights to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, then Israel would transform into a binational state, and no longer be a Jewish state. Therefore, many have argued that Israel must maintain its Jewish majority and democracy by relinquishing control over Palestinian territory and achieving a two-state solution.
Is there still a Jewish majority in the territory under Israeli control?
According to the Israeli Defense Ministry’s Palestinian affairs body, Israel’s Jewish majority may already be in question. Israeli officials estimate that the Palestinian population in the West Bank has reached 2.2 - 2.4 million. Combined with 2 million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, 300,000 in East Jerusalem, and 2 million Israeli Palestinians and other non-Jewish residents of Israel, the non-Jewish population would equal or exceed the 6.7 million Jewish residents in Israel and the West Bank.
Census data conducted by prominent Israeli demographer Sergio Della Pergola appears to confirm the Defense Ministry’s conclusion, finding that Jewish Israelis make up 74 percent of Israel, approximately 60 percent when the West Bank is included, and approximately 50 percent when the West Bank and Gaza are both included.
Della Pergola’s figures differ from some others: The Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics claims that
there are actually 2.8 million Palestinians living in the West Bank, while some Israeli experts have accused the Palestinian Authority of inflating its population count and undercounting net emigration and deaths. However, the Israeli Defense Ministry’s figures did not solely rely on the Palestinian census, and also drew from its own security database.
Finally, many on Israel’s right-wing also argue that Gaza should not be included in demographic calculations because Israel largely withdrew from the territory in 2006. They also argue that the West Bank should not be included, as Palestinians already enjoy voting rights under the Palestinian Authority. However, others contend that Israel still controls Gaza’s borders, including its coastline and airspace, and retains significant control over Palestinian life throughout most of the West Bank.