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Israel needs an ethos for its contemporary problems. Photo by Emil Salman
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Some of those Israeli advocates of the "two-state solution" who trumpet the demographic danger facing Israel may have had a few sleepless nights after perusing the latest demographic report released by the Central Bureau of Statistics on the eve of Rosh Hashanah. As has been claimed by Yoram Ettinger for the past few years, it turns out that the demographic demon is not what it's cracked up to be. Now it's official. Demography seems to be working in favor of the Jewish population.

You really didn't have to be a professional demographer or statistician to realize that modern times, higher living standards, better education for women, and more women entering the working population were going to reverse the demographic trend of past years. But preconceived notions of permanent fantastic birth rates among Arab women, supported by effective propaganda, have thrown a scare into many of Israel's Jewish citizens. They were made to believe that they were being threatened by a flood of Arab babies that would soon turn the Jewish population into a minority west of the Jordan River, and that salvation lay only in the "two-state solution."

Of course, the demographic demon is not the only - and not even the most convincing - argument for establishing a Palestinian state west of the Jordan. A lot is to be said for dividing the area west of the Jordan between Jews and Arabs in an attempt to settle once and for all the 100-year conflict between Jews and Arabs. Like King Solomon's decision in biblical times, it seems at first sight the just solution. Give each his share of the land he covets and let peace come to the land. No matter that it would not exactly end up being consistent with the popular slogan "two states for two peoples," but rather, as things stand now, three or maybe four states for two peoples - for the Palestinians a state in Jordan, a state in the West Bank and a state in Gaza, and for the Jews a state with a significant Palestinian minority in Israel.

So why do the advocates of the "two-state solution" also drag in the demographic demon, claiming that this "solution" is essential for the continued existence of Israel as a "Jewish democratic state," or in other words, which are endlessly repeated, that continued Israeli control of Judea and Samaria means that Israel would either cease to be a Jewish state or cease to be a democracy?

The answer is obvious - to scare those Israelis who hesitate to part with the biblical heartland of the Land of Israel into accepting this "painful" compromise. In using this argument, seemingly so concerned with the democratic nature of the State of Israel, they turn a blind eye to the sensibilities of Israel's Arab citizens. What they are saying, in so many words, is the fewer Arabs in Israel the better. That may strike a responsive chord with some of the marginal elements in Israeli society, but it is neither democratic nor civil. That kind of talk cannot be music to Israel's Arab citizens.

Now that the demographic demon seems to have been put to rest, where does demography enter the argument about Israel's future? Most Israelis are determined to assure the state's Jewish character, linguistically and culturally, while respecting the language and culture of its Arab citizens. We insist on continuing with the mission that the Jewish state has set for itself of providing a haven for those Jews throughout the world who may need one. What happened during the Holocaust can never be allowed to happen again. This requires a substantial Jewish majority.

How big a majority? That's a question that needs to be pondered. Is the present 80 percent Jewish majority sufficient? Is it just right? Is it already too high? Would a reduction to a 70 percent Jewish majority be a catastrophe? Is it solely a question of numbers or is it also a function of the degree to which Israel's minority population has been integrated into Israeli society? Difficult and inconvenient as these questions may be, they need to be addressed, with full consideration for the sensibilities of our Arab citizens, if we want to discuss our future intelligently. Now that we have at least partially quantified the problem, let's discuss it.