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Has settler movement sacrificed Gaza to annex the West Bank?

A new YouTube video from the settler movement suggests that without Gaza, Israel can annex the West Bank and still maintain a Jewish majority. Only recently, Gaza was sacred land to the same movement. Does this indicate a strategic shift?

By Eyal Clyne || Translated from Hebrew by Ofer Neiman. || Co-posted with Jnews.

A. Is the annexation of the West Bank imminent?

“Yesha Council”[1] and “My Israel”[2] have recently circulated a propaganda video clip as part of a campaign addressing the old Israeli-left argument, that “if a two-state solution is not established soon, Israel will lose its Jewish demographic superiority“. In the clip they demonstrate how by deducting the estimated Gaza Strip population from their demographic calculations, the Jewish majority can remain safe and sound between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, even if Israel were to annex the West Bank.

This campaign may indicate a new direction for the Israeli right-wing given the way Israeli right-wing commentators, researchers, mathematicians, journalists, bloggers, activists, political groups and prominent public figures have quickly adopted and rejoiced over this new trophy.

With sparkling eyes the Yesha missionaries rush to every corner to “explain” that Israel can in fact remain “a democracy” after all, and still control the West Bank. A dream comes true. I can actually imagine them hearing it for the first time: tongues rolling down to the floor, eyes rolling back displaying dollar signs for pupils, and then taking a headlong jump into the freshly discovered treasure trove of opportunity, where much more lands and far fewer Arabs are found, precisely according to the Midrash of Rabbi Ben-Gurion.

Prima facie, the general trends described are admittedly partially true [3] (although biased and misleading [4]). Indeed, the Palestinian fertility rate in the West Bank seems to be declining slowly,[5] and given the intensifying violence and oppression by the army and settlers, there is significant Palestinian emigration (which often means that those who leave lose the right to ever return).[6] Yet the claim that the Jewish majority is “assured”, or only expected to increase “to our advantage” – is erroneous, since it would take a while before for the two population-growth-rates equal or turn in favour of the Jews.[7]

B. Are the settlers really giving up Gaza?

Nevertheless, these are of minor importance. The key question is whether this is merely another ploy in the service of perpetuating settler presence in the West Bank, or genuinely a new argument by the settlers to concede the Gaza Strip and annex the West Bank. So far, Yesha Council is still ambivalent on the issue. On the one hand, it deducts Gaza’s population from its calculations, but on the other, it includes the strip in its maps, illustrations, clips, and in its official title.[1]Thus, Gaza is both “here” and “there”, present and absent, visible and disappearing upon necessity. One moment the settlers justify control over the West Bank as possible while maintaining an ethnic Jewish majority, but the next moment, this reason no longer suffices for conceding the Gaza Strip.

That said, if more right-wing politicians were really to break free from both this ambivalence and the Gaza Strip, this would be a new development. They would probably justify it then by claiming to be nurturing and hanging on to the “dream” of return to Gaza as an object of yearning (consequently, future generations would desire to return to Gaza, not Jerusalem).

Speculation aside, as long as their hearts and tongues are at odds, any concessions they appear to make are nothing but a pretext for the annexation of more land. The Gaza Strip, like any other substance, serves as verbal clay in the hands of the potter, another tenet in the blind vision which has always guided Gush Emunim: starting from the conclusion of our need for the settlements, and only then nourishing it with any available reason, divine or mundane, true and false. Hence the Gaza Strip, until recently sacred land, can also easily become a land of lepers, concentrating the natives we wish to ignore.

C. Here, sweet secular Israelis…We have a treat for you…

No wonder, then, that the clip reeks of the attempt to (patronisingly) pander the viewer with animation. Hoping to sweet-talk secular audiences, the makers of the video selected Golan Azulai as presentor. Azulai is a religious settler and a broadcaster on the settler’s radio station “Galey Yisrael,” but he appears with a chic beret instead of a settler-yarmulke, and lots of secular and modern-traditional Israelis love it. Spiritual but also timely and of the people; simply adorable.

For the same reason the video also forsakes the messianic “truth” and “eternity” discourse, and replaces “God willing” with the one thing Israeli mainstream understands best: the language of demographic control. A “Jewish majority” is the ultimate Zionist obsession (at least since the 1940’s). The Zionist political Centrum – from the growing party led by Lieberman to the diminishing leftovers of Meretz – has always been afflicted by ethnic hegemony-hysteria and an unresolved desire to reconcile the Jewish state with a positive self-image and a democratic ethos. The video capitalises on this desire, not hesitating to encourage the mendacious impression many Israelis have of Palestinians (errr…sorry, I mean, of Arabs; Palestinian people does not exist…) willingly emigrating. (They even go so far as to include an animation of Palestinian Arabs departing from Ben Gurion international airport, which in reality they’re not even allowed near).

D. “Arabs, go to Gaza!”: Vox Populi Becomes Policy

Only that, if you lay with demographic discourse justifications, don’t be surprised to wake up without fatherland parts. What started out as a tactical argument in favour of the status quo is now spinning out of control and rapidly becoming an end in itself. New groups have become convinced and are persuading others that the West Bank has to be annexed, and even possibly enfranchised (the rights of the Arab minority in Israel are limited anyway), and the Gaza Strip abandoned. The Golem has turned on its creator.

The proponents of annexing the West Bank without the Gaza Strip are hoping to their position will gradually take hold in Israeli public discourse. After all, this is palatable music for Israeli mainstream ears, because it adopts their good-old logic: “in order to maintain the essential Jewish majority, we are compelled to allot a portion of the land, as small and meaningless as possible, to which millions of Palestinian will be confined, through our indirect control, perhaps with meaningless self-governance.” The new plan not only advocates a segregation similar to former PM Ehud Barak’s familiar “We’ll be here, and they’ll be there” plan, but also makes a more practical and lucrative (and violent) suggestion: for the price of Gaza we get all the rest.

If this new and improved unilateral Disengagement Plan becomes the new neo-Zionist agenda, we must remember that, in fact, there is nothing new about it. Since the creation of the Gaza Stripby Israel, it has always functioned as a large impoverished refugee camp, a stubborn living monument to the various expulsions from 1947-1952. Its creation produced an artificial ethnic majority in the remaining land, using the factitious demographic reality to pass as a democracy, and tautologically legitimise the new state.

Prime Minister Levi Eshkol:“Regarding the Arabs of Gaza, I would like to hope that they will go away from [Greater] Israel [including Gaza]”.

Prof. Roberto Bachi, director of Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics: “How?”
Eshkol: “I am looking for people who will find a solution to this”.
Bachi: “You cannot expel. You can only encourage emigration […but] to assume that this would solve the problem would be a dangerous illusion”.

(A discussion on “The refugees in Gaza”, December 1967,
Israel State Archive. Quoted by Tom Segev 2005).

[1] “Yesha Council”, the umbrella organisation of Israeli ideological settlers, is one of the strongest organisations in Israeli politics. It is known for spreading hard-core right-wing ideology, and opposing any territorial compromise, using the council-taxes paid in the settlements. The name “Yesha” (literally: salvation) makes the initials for the Israelite-based region names of Judea, Samaria and Gaza, now constrained into denoting the modern West Bank and Gaza Strip.

[2] “My Israel” is a group established by two of Netanyahu’s ex-staff members, and is supported by some of his donors.

[3] The claim is not unreasonable. Given that the number of Jews and Arabs between the Jordan River and the sea at present is roughly equal, deducting approximately 1.5 million inhabitants of the Gaza Strip, results in a “Jewish majority” in the rest of pre-1948 Palestine. This will hold even if Israel continues to control the West Bank, or even annexes it.

[4] The accurate numbers are always disputed and colored with visable political hues. Of the various surveys and countering surveys I can conclude that, to the best of my understanding, the numbers presented in the video are wrong. I would carefully estimate the numbers of Palestinians under Israeli rule in: about 1.6M inside the Green Line, and about 2.1M in the West Bank. This comes to about 3.7M Palestinians vs. 5.8M Jews (and others), not 3M vs. 6M, as shown in the clip. This is certainly not the important point to stress, but the truth must still be told to the Israelis who think it matters.

[5] It is interesting to note how enthusiastically they link the slow decrease in birth to the increase in women education (amongst Arabs), and even dare rule that the latter causes the former. However, at the same time, they completely skip the opposite invited conclusion, to connect the increase in birth of Israeli-Jews, to some possible implication we can assume it has, for instance, on the education, income and status of Jewish-Israeli women.

[6] The data on Palestinian will to emigrate is also manipulated. In polls, respondents are rarely asked only Yes-or-No questions, but complex answers, such as “not overruling it”, “may have to”, etc. There are also in-depth questions, and different analyses, in addition to the fact that the formulation and timing of a question can dramatically influence the results. More worrying then these distortions, is the fact that the Palestinians who manage to leave tend to be the more pragmatic, educated, and wealthy, leaving behind a more poor, and less educated or pragmatic Palestinian society.

[7] This is misleading both mathematically and in language. It is not argued that “Jewish-Israeli birth rate is higher than Palestinians’ birth rate”, but that “the gap between the two rates is diminishing”. In other words, the birth-rate of Arabs is still higher than the Jewish one, and it will take decades until they become equal (if the trends persist). The real question should have been what will happen first: that the two ratios will come to equivalence, or that there will be a non-Jewish majority, when following the absolute real numbers. You can make the calculations yourselves if you feel like it, but remember that this too ignores the possibilities of Arabs and Jews voting for the same parties, or in different participation rates, or of anything that may change the trends in such forecast.

Eyal Clyne is an Israeli blogger and researcher of the societies in Israel-Palestine. His commentary has been published in Haaretz, Ynet, Walla!, 972mag.com and Ha’Oketz.

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    1. Andrew

      While I like the article, it misquotes the data from the CIA Factbook. The Palestinian population in the West Bank is about 2.6 million. That does *not* include the settler population.

      Reply to Comment
    2. aristeides

      It was all Ben Gurion’s fault for settling the coast, not the hills. Maybe the Palestinians would like to trade – Hebron for Tel Aviv.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Danny

      The settlers really are pathetic creatures. The sheer racism in the video (talking about the fertility rate of Arab women as if they are nothing more than animals) serves to completely negate any pity I might have had for their delusional and pathetic worldview. These people represent the ugly and backward side of Judaism, and if Israel won’t act against them soon, it will forever be stained by them, in much the same way Germany was stained by the Nazis or the U.S. by the KKK.

      Reply to Comment
    4. annie

      are the subtitles for deaf people? what other point is there is making subtitles in the same language?

      Reply to Comment
    5. Mitchell Cohen

      “The sheer racism in the video (talking about the fertility rate of Arab women as if they are nothing more than animals) serves to completely negate any pity I might have had for their delusional and pathetic worldview.” [End of Danny]

      Do you get the creeps just as much when radical anti-religious talk about the Haredi fertility rate?

      “are the subtitles for deaf people? what other point is there is making subtitles in the same language?” [End of Annie]

      Perhaps, is that a bad thing?

      Reply to Comment
    6. Danny

      @Annie: The reason is probably because the guy’s accent is not the best (it has a tinge of Moroccan-French – an irony in itself since Moroccan Jews are actually Arabs themselves).

      @Mitchell: No one in his right mind would dare make such a video about the orthodox demographic “demon”. But Arabs, of course, are, and always have been, fair game.

      Reply to Comment
      • Dmitri

        Actually they are not Arabs, they are Jewish. Jews are not just a religion, but also an ethnic group.

        Reply to Comment
    7. Mitchell Cohen

      “No one in his right mind would dare make such a video about the orthodox demographic “demon”.” [End of Danny]
      Are you sure about that? I might be getting older, but I don’t have a short memory. I remember in the 1999 elections when Shinui got a record number of seats on a single issue anti-Haredi platform. I also remember their campaign adds (many of which stressed the Haredi “time bomb”). In fact, this seems to be a popular topic of discussion amongst the “enlightened” of cosmopolitan Israel. I take it your answer to my question in my previous post is “no”….

      Reply to Comment
    8. Danny

      Shinui’s campaign was a direct pushback to Shas, which even at that time was already a destructive element in Israeli politics (much more so today). The rift between what you call the enlightened and the ignorant is very real and stems from the desire of the ultra-orthodox to turn Israel into a theocracy (medinat halacha). I happen to agree with Ephraim Halevy, who rightly said that if nothing is done to stem this tide, Israel will indeed turn into a theocracy in a couple decades’ time.

      Reply to Comment
    9. Mitchell Cohen

      And what do you propose as a solution Danny? Limiting Haredi birthrates? We need to take care of this demographic time bomb, right? Does this not sound eeringly familiar to what you expressed disgust with in the first place, only “Haredi” was substituted for “Arab”?

      Reply to Comment
    10. Criticism where criticism is due, but to the elder Lapid’s credit, his solution was always national education.

      To be less than charitable, Lapid treated the Haredis the way a modern state would treat a minority group before the era of civil rights and minority empowerment – i.e. as people who need to be made in the image of the imagined majority so that they can fulfill their potential. (Imagined, because often this majority isn’t really a majority: WASPs in the US, Parisians in France, secular Hebrew-speaking Ashkenazis in Israel, and so on.) It’s much like how the Zionist movement exterminated Yiddish culture from the 1930s to the 1950s with its Speak Hebrew campaigns. The way the settlers treat the Arabs is premodern: they are different, so we must eliminate them.

      Reply to Comment
    11. Danny

      Nobody is making disgusting videos that “count” the number of babies that come out of the wombs of Haredi and non-Haredi women (like this piece of shit video does). Nobody is thinking of ways to cause Haredi people to leave en masse (like this video does). In fact, nobody is saying anything – Shinui is long gone (and good riddance to them). You are the one who brought it up, as if to show that the Haredis are as badly treated in Israel as are the Arabs – a ludicrous comparison.

      Reply to Comment