The Demographic Challenge

Israel is facing a serious demographic challenge that threatens its future as both a democratic and a Jewish state. There are moral, political, and strategic dangers in preserving the territorial status quo. As leading Israeli demographer Sergio DellaPergola has noted, “Israel cannot remain a majority Jewish, democratic state, by indefinitely controlling the Palestinian territories.” Only a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict can prevent this existential danger from becoming a reality.


Total Population Numbers

Israel finds itself confronting a growing demographic challenge. While the Jewish population in Israel is growing and getting younger, its share of the total Israeli population is diminishing. And while the state of Israel maintains its Jewish majority, the historic land of Eretz Israel -- the land lying between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River -- now holds an Arab majority.

  • As of February 2013, Jews constitute approximately 75.3 percent of the Israeli population, and Israeli Arabs make up around 20.7 percent of the population. (Source: Sergio DellaPergola, “Demographic Timebomb? People Power and the Future of Israel as a Jewish State,” Middle East Program, Wilson Center, February 14, 2013.) Click here to read about DellaPergola’s recent talk at the Wilson Center. 
  • According to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, the population of Israel at the end of 2012 was estimated at 7.981 million. The Jewish population was approximately 6.015 million (75.4 percent of total population) and the Arab population was approximately 1.648 million (20.6 percent of total population). (Source: Gabe Fisher, “On eve of 2013, Israel’s population stands at cusp of 8 million,” Times of Israel, December 30, 2012.) Click here to read the piece.
  • According to official statistics released by Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics in April 2012, Jews now constitute a minority of the people living between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, accounting for 5.9 million of the total 12 million people living under Israeli rule. “From now on, it is an official statistic.” (Source: Akiva Eldar, “The Jewish majority is history,” Haaretz, October 16, 2012.) Click here to read the piece.


Population Growth Rates

According to the World Bank, the population growth rate is “the increase in a country’s population during a period of time, usually one year, expressed as a percentage of the population at the start of that period.” The rate “reflects the number of births and deaths during the period and the number of people migrating to and from a country.”

Within the state of Israel, the Israeli Arab population is growing at a higher rate than Israel’s Jews. Consequently, the Jewish majority within Israel is slowly diminishing. In relation to Palestine, the population growth rate of Israel is lower than the Palestinian population growth rate, resulting in the Palestinian population growing at a faster rate than Israel’s population growth rate. Furthermore, the lack of significant Jewish migration to Israel over the last decade, coupled with relatively higher Arab growth rates, means that the share of Jews within the entire population living between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River will continue to diminish.

  • Within the state of Israel in 2011 the combined growth rate of Jews, non-Arab Christians, and those not classified by religion was 1.7 percent. The growth rate of Arabs was 2.4 percent. By religion, the annual growth rate of Israeli Jews was 1.8 percent and of Israeli Muslims it was 2.5 percent. (Source: Israel Central Bureau of Statistics, “Statistical Abstract of Israel 2012,” No. 63 Subject 2, State of Israel, 92.) Click here to see the report. 
  • Another source similarly finds that, in 2011, the Palestinian population growth rate was 2.5 percent and the population growth rate of Israel was 1.9 percent. (Source: Population Reference Bureau, “Palestinian Territory,” Population Reference Bureau.) Click here to see the report. 


Population projections between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River

Jews now officially constitute a minority of the population living between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, and this minority is projected to become even smaller over the next several decades. While the total population of Israel is, and is projected to remain, larger than the Palestinian population in terms of overall numbers, the Jewish minority will continue to shrink relative to the Arab majority due to higher Arab growth rates in both Israel and Palestine.

  • The Population Reference Bureau projects that the population of Israel will reach approximately 9.4 million in 2025 and 13.3 million in 2050. The population of Palestine will reach approximately 6.0 million in 2025 and 9.7 million in 2050. (Source: Population Reference Bureau, “2012 World Population Data Sheet,” Population Reference Bureau, July 2012, 8.) Click here to see the population data sheet. 
  • According to the World Bank Group, the population of Israel is projected to rise to 9.472 million by 2025, 10.609 million by 2035, and 12.312 million by 2050. The population of Palestine is projected to increase to 6.182 million by 2025, 7.674 million by 2035, and 9.942 million by 2050. (Source: World Bank, “Population Projection Tables by Country and Group,” the World Bank Group). Click here to view the population projection table.
  • Current Palestinian Arab growth rates are nearly twice as high as the Jewish population. If these trends continue, the percentage of Jews living between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River could fall to 47 percent of the total population by 2020. (Source: Sergio DellaPergola, “Jewish Demographic Policies: Population Trends and Options in Israel and the Diaspora,” The Jewish People Policy Institute, 2011, 17.) Click here to read the report.  


Rate of Natural Increase

The rate of natural increase measures the difference between the number of live births and the number of deaths occurring in a country during a given year. According to the United Nations, it “represents the portion of population growth (or decline) determined exclusively by births and deaths,” and excludes the effects of migration on a country’s population.

The rate of natural increase of Israeli Arabs is higher than the Jewish rate of natural increase. This means that the ratio of Israeli Arab births to deaths is greater than that of Jews. More broadly, the rate of natural increase of Palestine is significantly higher than the Israeli rate of natural increase. This means that the ratio of Palestinian births to deaths is greater than that of Israel.

  • Within Israel, the rate of natural increase in 2011 was 1.46 percent for non-Arabs and 2.23 percent for Arabs. (Source: Israel Central Bureau of Statistics, “Statistical Abstract of Israel 2012,” No. 63 Subject 2, State of Israel, 180.) Click here to view the statistical abstract. 
  • According to another source, the rate of natural increase for the state of Israel in 2011 was 1.7 percent, while the Palestinian rate of natural increase was 2.8 percent. (Source: Population Reference Bureau, “2012 World Population Data Sheet,” Population Reference Bureau, July 2012, 8). Click here to see the data sheet. 
  • Between the time frame of 2010-2015, the Israeli rate of natural increase is predicted to be an average of approximately 1.5 percent. For that same period, the Palestinian rate of natural increase is predicted to be about 2.9 percent. (Source: World Bank, “Population Projection Tables by Country and Group,” the World Bank Group). Click here to view the population projection table. 


Total Fertility Rates

According to the World Bank, the total fertility rate “represents the number of children that would be born to a woman if she were to live to the end of her childbearing years and bear children in accordance with current age-specific fertility rates.” In other words, it is the average number of children born per woman during her lifetime. The total fertility rate is an indicator of potential change within a given population. A rate of two children per woman is considered the replacement rate for a population -- the number of children each woman must have in order to maintain current population levels. Rates above 2.0 demonstrate a growing population that is getting younger. Rates below 2.0 signal a population decreasing in size and growing older.

Within the state of Israel, the fertility rate of the country’s Arabs is higher than that of its Jews. This means that the Arab population in Israel is growing faster and getting younger on average than Israel’s Jews. More broadly, the total fertility rate of Palestine is higher than the total fertility rate of the state of Israel. This means that the Palestinian population is growing faster and getting younger than the Israeli population.

  • In 2011, the total fertility rate of Israel was 3.0 children per woman. Jews and other non-Arab segments of the population had a fertility rate of 2.90. Israeli Arabs had a fertility rate of 3.30. By religion, Jews had a rate of 2.98, and for Israeli Muslims this figure was 3.51. (Source: Israel Central Bureau of Statistics, “Statistical Abstract of Israel 2012,” No. 63, Subject 3, State of Israel, 200.) Click here to view the statistical tables.
  • According to another source, in 2011 the total fertility rate of Israel was 3.0 children per woman. The total fertility rate of Palestine that year was 4.4 children per woman. (Source: Population Reference Bureau, “2012 World Population Data Sheet,” Population Reference Bureau, July 2012, 12.) Click here to view the data sheet. 


The Demographic Merit of Establishing a Palestinian state

  • According to Israeli demographer Sergio DellaPergola, a “critical prerequisite to Israel’s future existence as a Jewish and democratic state” is the preservation of “a clear and undisputed Jewish majority among Israel’s total population.” If Israel does not maintain a clear Jewish majority, it “would jeopardize the State’s long-term ability to exist as the core state of the Jewish People and a central, relevant referent to world Jewry.” (Source: Sergio DellaPergola, “Jewish Demographic Policies: Population Trends and Options in Israel and the Diaspora,” The Jewish People Policy Institute, 2011, 11 & 46-47. Click here for the link.
  • Similarly, Arnon Soffer and Evgenia Byrstov noted that “the state of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state can continue to exist only if it has a clear Jewish majority,” but demographic changes in Palestine and within Israel “threaten [Israel’s] capacity” to realize democratic values (Source: Evgenia Byrstov and Arnon Soffer, “Israel: Demography 2012-2030: On the Way to a Religious State,” University of Haifa, May 2012, 15. Click here for the link.) 

Israel cannot remain a democratic state with a Jewish majority by holding on to the West Bank. Jews already constitute a minority of the population living between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, and their share of the total population is expected to further decline in the next several decades. However, the creation of a Palestinian state would ensure the future of a Jewish and a democratic Israel.

  • Due to higher Arab birth rates relative to Jewish birth rates, Israel requires a net annual immigration of more than 80,000 Jews in order to keep the Jewish-Arab balance at its present level. (Source: Sergio DellaPergola, “Jewish Demographic Policies: Population Trends and Options in Israel and the Diaspora,” The Jewish People Policy Institute, 2011, 122.) Click here to view the report. 
  • By 2030, Jews are predicted to make up 44 percent of the total population between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. Excluding Gaza, Jews would make up around 54 percent of the population. Excluding Gaza and the West Bank, Jews would comprise about 76 percent of the total population. Excluding all Palestinian territories, Jews would make up approximately 83 percent of the total population. (Source: Sergio DellaPergola, “Jewish Demographic Policies: Population Trends and Options in Israel and the Diaspora,” The Jewish People Policy Institute, 2011, 236.) Click here to view the report. 
  • If Israel and Palestine agreed to a Territorial Swap scenario, the percentage of Jews out of Israel’s total population would be 85 percent in 2020 and 83 percent in 2030. (Source: Sergio DellaPergola, “Jewish Demographic Policies: Population Trends and Options in Israel and the Diaspora,” The Jewish People Policy Institute, 2011, 243.) Click here to view the report.
  • “From Israel's perspective, the [territorial] swap's scope would...be limited to a very minor proportion of the whole territory, but its consequences are bound to influence significantly Israel’s ethno-demographic balance in the long run and to reduce the tensions inherent in a bi-national state.” (Source: Sergio DellaPergola, “Jewish Demographic Policies: Population Trends and Options in Israel and the Diaspora,” The Jewish People Policy Institute, 2011, 244.) Click here to view the report.

 

© INSP 2013