Peace and Israel's Growing Neighbors

Article excerpt

THE unresolved dispute over Israeli-occupied territories is a demographic bomb with a long-lit fuse. If current Arab-Israeli peace talks don't produce results, prospects for finding a solution may be swamped by population trends.

Israel seeks to attract Jewish immigration from around the world, especially from the former Soviet Union. In addition, Israel encourages its women to have more children. But the buildup of a Jewish population in Israel based on immigration and fertility pales in comparison to the inexorable population increases of its Middle East neighbors.

Of the estimated 14 million Jews in the world, half live in North America and Europe - areas that provide relatively few Israeli immigrants. Perhaps 3 million to 5 million Jews, mostly in the European republics of the former Soviet Union, are candidates for emigration to Israel.

Prospects for incorporating overseas co-religionists are further limited by the unknown intentions of these Jews from ex-Soviet territories. Some see Israel as a way station to settlement in North America or Europe. Israel experienced a net migration loss in 1981, 1985, and 1986. In August 1990, the Israeli absorption minister said that 30 percent of the Soviet arrivals were not Jews. Even if Israel is successful in attracting all potential immigrants, the pool will be pretty well dried up by the end of the century.

Fertility is no more likely than immigration to provide the Jewish state with greatly increased numbers. The country's TFR (total fertility rate, or the average number of children a woman has in her childbearing years) has fallen from four in the post-World War II years to three today. And women from the former Soviet Union have 30 percent fewer children than their co-religionists in Israel.

Israel's Middle East neighbors (Egypt, Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and the West Bank) have a TFR ranging from close to four children in Lebanon to around seven in Jordan and Gaza. Many countries in the Middle East have the highest level of fertility and rate of population growth in the world, comparable to Sub-Saharan Africa. …