Between the Settlers and the Unsettlers
Why Israel will soon be the only state able to govern Judea and Samaria, and the only military force capable of securing its borders
By David P. Goldman, TABLET MAG |July 14, 2014 12:00 AM
A one-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is upon us. It won’t arrive by Naftali Bennett’s proposal to annex the West Bank’s Area C, or through the efforts of BDS campaigners and Jewish Voice for Peace to alter the Jewish state. But it will happen, sooner rather than later, as the states on Israel’s borders disintegrate and other regional players annex whatever they can. As that happens, Israeli sovereignty in Judea and Samaria is becoming inevitable.
Last week’s rocket attacks from Gaza failed to inflict many casualties in Israel—but they administered a mortal wound to Palestinian self-governance. Hamas launched its deepest strikes ever into Israel after the IDF cracked down on its West Bank operations following the murder last month of three Israeli boys, arresting nearly 900 members of Hamas and other terrorist groups. Humiliated in the territories, and unable to pay its 44,000 Gaza employees, Hamas acted from weakness, gambling that missile attacks would elicit a new Intifada on the West Bank. Although Fatah militias joined in the rocket attacks from Gaza, for now the Palestinian organizations are in their worst disarray in 20 years.
The settlers of Judea and Samaria have stood in the cross-hairs of Western diplomacy for two decades, during which the word “settler” has become a term of the highest international opprobrium. Yet the past decade of spiraling conflicts in the Middle East have revealed that what is settled in the region is far less significant than what is unsettled. Iran’s intervention into the Syrian civil conflict has drawn the Sunni powers into a war of attrition that already has displaced more than 10 million people, mostly Sunnis, and put many more at risk. The settled, traditional, tribal life of the Levant has been shattered. Never before in the history of the region have so many young men had so little hope, so few communal ties, and so many reasons to take up arms.
As a result, the central premise of Western diplomacy in the region has been pulled inside-out, namely that a resolution of the Palestinian refugee issue was the key to long-term stability in the Middle East. Now the whole of the surrounding region has become one big refugee crisis. Yet the seemingly spontaneous emergence of irregular armies like the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) now rampaging through northern Mesopotamia should be no surprise. The misnamed Arab Spring of 2011 began with an incipient food crisis in Egypt and a water crisis in Syria. Subsidies from the Gulf States keep Egypt on life support. In Syria and Iraq, though, displaced populations become foraging armies that loot available resources, particularly oil, and divert the proceeds into armaments that allow the irregulars to keep foraging. ISIS is selling $800 million a year of Syrian oil to Turkey, according to one estimate, as well as selling electricity from captured power plants back to the Assad government. On June 11 it seized the Bajii power plant oil refinery in northern Iraq, the country’s largest.
The region has seen nothing like it since the Mongol invasion of the 13th century. Perpetual war has turned into a snowball that accumulates people and resources as it rolls downhill and strips the ground bare of sustenance. Those who are left shiver in tents in refugee camps, and their young men go off to the war. There is nothing new about this way of waging war; it was invented in the West during the Thirty Years War by the imperial general Albrecht von Wallenstein, and it caused the death of nearly half the population of Central Europe between 1618 and 1648.
As a result of this spiraling warfare, four Arab states—Libya, Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq—have effectively ceased to exist. Lebanon, once a Christian majority country, became a Shia country during the past two decades under the increased domination of Hezbollah. Nearly 2 million Syrian Sunnis have taken refuge in Lebanon, as Israeli analyst Pinhas Inbari observes, and comprise almost half of Lebanon’s total population of 4 million, shifting the demographic balance to the Sunnis—while the mass Sunni exodus tilts the balance of power in Syria toward the Alawites and other religious minorities, who are largely allied with Iran. Jordan, meanwhile, has taken in a million Syrian Sunnis, making Palestinians a minority inside Jordan for the first time in a generation. A region that struggled to find sustenance for its people before 2011 has now been flooded with millions of refugees without resources or means of support. They are living for the most part on largesse from the Gulf States, and their young men are prospective cannon fodder.
The remaining states in the region—Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Iran—will alternately support and suppress the new irregular armies as their interests require. Where does ISIS get its support, apart from oil hijacking in Syria and bank robberies in Mosul? There are allegations that ISIS receives support from Turkey, the Sunni Gulf States, and Iran. Pinhas Inbari claims that Shiite Iran is funding Sunni extremists “to be certain that a strong Iraqi state does not emerge again along its western border.” There are equally credible reports that each of these powers wants to stop ISIS. Saudi Arabia fears that Sunni extremists might overthrow the monarchy. Turkey fears that the depredations of ISIS on its border will trigger the formation of an independent Kurdish state, which it has opposed vehemently for decades. Iran views ISIS as a Sunni competitor for influence in the region.
To some extent, I believe, all these reports are true. The mess in the Middle East brings to mind the machinations around Swedish intervention in the Thirty Years War between 1627 and 1635, when France’s Cardinal Richelieu paid Sweden’s King Gustavus Adolphus to intervene on the Protestant side in order to weaken France’s Catholic rival Austria. At different times, Protestant Saxony and Catholic Bavaria allied with France, Austria, and each other, respectively. France and Sweden began as allies, briefly became enemies, and then were allies again. Looming over this snake-pit of religious, dynastic, and national rivalries was the figure of Albrecht von Wallenstein, the Austrian generalissimo who twice saved the Empire from defeat at the hands of the Protestants. Wallenstein, commanding a polyglot mercenary army with no national or religious loyalty, played both sides, and Austria had him murdered in 1634.
There is more than coincidence to the parallels between the Middle East today and 17th-century Europe. Iran’s intervention into Syria’s civil conflict inaugurated a new kind of war in the region, the sort that Richelieu practiced in the 1620s. Iran’s war objectives are not national or territorial in the usual sense; rather, the objective is the war itself, that is, the uprooting and destruction of potentially hostile populations. With a third of Syria’s population displaced and several million expelled, the Assad regime has sought to change Syria’s demographics to make the country more congenial to Shiite rule. That in turn elicits a new kind of existential desperation from the Saudis, who are fighting for not only the survival of their sclerotic and corrupt monarchy, but also for the continuation of Sunni life around them. Today Iraq’s Sunnis, including elements of Saddam Hussein’s mainly Sunni army and the 100,000 strong “Sons of Iraq” force hired by then-U.S. commander Gen. David Petraeus during the 2007-2008 surge, are making common cause with ISIS. Tomorrow they might be shooting at each other. The expectation that the waves of sectarian and tribal violence that have caused national borders to crumble across the Middle East will die down in 30 years may be both incredibly grim and wildly optimistic.
In the background of the region’s disrupted demographics, a great demographic change overshadows the actions of all the contenders. That is decline of Muslim fertility, and the unexpected rise in Jewish fertility. The fall in Muslim birth rate is most extreme in Iran and Turkey, with different but related consequences. When Ayatollah Khomeini took power in 1979, the average Iranian woman had seven children; today the total fertility rate has fallen to just 1.6 children, the sharpest drop in demographic history. Iran still has a young population, but it has no children to succeed them. By mid-century Iran will have a higher proportion of elderly dependents than Europe, an impossible and unprecedented burden for a poor country. Iran’s sudden aging will be followed by Turkey, Algeria, and Tunisia.
Iran’s disappearing fertility is in a sense the Shah’s revenge. Iran is the most literate Muslim country, thanks in large part to an ambitious literacy campaign introduced by the Shah in the early 1970s. As I showed in my book How Civilizations Die (and Why Islam Is Dying, Too), literacy is the best predictor of fertility in the Muslim world: Muslim women who attend high school and university marry late or not at all and have fewer children. This has grave strategic implications, as Iran’s leaders unabashedly discuss.
Between 2005 and 2020, Iran’s population aged 15 to 24, that is, its pool of potential army recruits, will have fallen by nearly half. To put this in perspective, Pakistan’s military-age population will have risen by about half. In 2000, Iran had half the military-age men of its eastern Sunni neighbor; by 2020 it will have one-fourth as many. Iran’s bulge generation of youth born in the 1980s is likely to be its last, and its window for asserting Shiite power in the region will close within a decade.
The Obama Administration wants to contain Iranian aggression by accommodating Iran’s ambitions to become a regional power. As the president told Bloomberg’s Jeffrey Goldberg in March, “What I’ll say is that if you look at Iranian behavior, they are strategic, and they’re not impulsive. They have a worldview, and they see their interests, and they respond to costs and benefits. And that isn’t to say that they aren’t a theocracy that embraces all kinds of ideas that I find abhorrent, but they’re not North Korea. They are a large, powerful country that sees itself as an important player on the world stage, and I do not think has a suicide wish, and can respond to incentives.” Any deal with Iran is therefore a good deal from Obama’s point of view. But that is precisely wrong: Iran does not have a suicide wish, but it knows that it is dying, and has nothing to lose by rolling the dice today.
The Sunni powers view Iran’s desperate expansionist drive with as much dismay as do the Israelis. The Saudis already worry about Iranian subversion in their Shia-majority eastern province. Turkey, meanwhile, sees the sand running out in the hourglass. After decades of civil war with its Kurdish minority and 40,000 deaths, Turkey is gradually becoming Kurdish. The Kurds have 3.3 children per female versus only 1.8 for ethnic Turks, demographer Nicholas Eberstadt estimates, which means that within a generation, half the recruits to the Turkish army will come from Kurdish-speaking homes. Turkey has done all it can to forestall the emergence of a Kurdish state on its border, but it has failed. Iraq’s breakup has given rise to a Kurdish state de facto if not yet de jure, and it is only a matter of time before Turkey itself shows territorial cracks.
Israel is the great exception to the decline in fertility from North Africa to Iran, as I argued in a 2011 essay for Tablet magazine. The evidence is now overwhelming that a Jewish majority between the Jordan River and the sea is baked in the cake.
The CIA World Factbook estimates total fertility of Arabs in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza at just 2.83 in 2014, versus 3.05 in 2011. The total fertility of Israeli Jews, meanwhile, has risen above three children per female. Yakov Faitelson reported in the Middle East Quarterly:
From the beginning of the twenty-first century the TFR of Israeli Muslims decreased considerably, from 4.7 in 2000 to 3.5 children per woman in 2011. The TFR of all Arabs decreased still further to 3.3 children per woman, very close to the 3.09 for Jews born in Israel. In November 2011, a new comprehensive ICBS projection was published in which the government office admitted that in the past it had overestimated Israeli Arab fertility and underestimated Jewish fertility.
Jewish immigration is consistently positive and accelerating, while Palestinian emigration, at an estimated 10,000 per year since 1967, is reducing the total Arab population west of the Jordan River. Palestine Authority data exaggerated Arab numbers in Judea and Samaria by about 30 percent, or 648,000 people, as of the 1997 census. As Caroline Glick observes in her 2014 book The Israeli Solution, Jews will constitute a 60 percent majority between the river and the sea, and “some anticipate that due almost entirely to Jewish immigration, Jews could comprise an 80 percent majority within the 1949 armistice lines and Judea and Samaria by 2035.”
Israel therefore has little fear demographically from annexation. Net Jewish immigration and net Arab emigration will combine with higher Jewish fertility to establish a Jewish supermajority over time. The character of the West Bank population is changing: It is becoming older and more educated, and increasing numbers of Arabs are benefiting from the strong Israeli economy. Over time, West Bank Arabs may embrace Israeli citizenship—when it is offered—as firmly as their counterparts inside the Green Line. The so-called apartheid issue is a canard. Israeli Arabs lived under martial law between the end of the War of Independence in 1949 and 1966, and no one spoke of apartheid. Israel’s most pressing problem in the near future may be Arab refugees trying to get in.
As a non-Israeli, I do not wish to recommend a particular course of action to Israel’s government. But the notion that the Palestinians could stay clear of the riptide that has engulfed their neighbors was fanciful to begin with and has now been trampled by events. Over the past two decades, since the Oslo agreements were signed, the Palestine Authority shown little ability to govern anything. After Egypt’s military government suppressed the Muslim Brotherhood, it turned viciously against the Brotherhood’s Palestinian wing, Hamas, and blockaded Gaza. If the PA were capable of ruling the West Bank, it would have allied with Egypt and Saudi Arabia to further isolate Hamas: Instead the PA formed a national unity government with Hamas. Events have shown that the PA cannot rule without Hamas, and it cannot rule with Hamas; it can neither support nor suppress terrorism on the West Bank. The inability of the Palestine Authority to govern, the inability of Hamas to distance itself from its patron in Tehran, and the collapse of the surrounding states eventually will require Israel to assume control over the West Bank. This time the Israelis will stay.
Israel can’t rely on the PA to conduct counterterrorism operations against Hamas, its coalition partner. Israel’s border with the Hashemite Kingdom in the Jordan Valley, meanwhile, has become a strategic pivot. ISIS is now operating in strength at the common border of Israel, Syria, Jordan, and occupied Iraqi-Syrian border towns close to the common frontier with Jordan. Jordan’s own security requires a strong IDF presence on its western border.
When Israel absorbs Judea and Samaria—and it is a when, not an if—the chancelleries of the West will wag their fingers, and the Gulf States will breathe a sigh of relief.
The historical homeland of the Jewish people will pass into Israeli sovereignty not because the national-religious will it to be so, or because an Israeli government seeks territorial aggrandizement, but because Israel will be the last man standing in the region, the only state able to govern Judea and Samaria, and the only military force capable of securing its borders. It will happen without fanfare, de facto rather than de jure, at some moment in the not-too-distant future when the foreign ministries of the West are locked in crisis session over Iraq or Syria. And it will happen with the tacit support of Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia.
Israeli authority will replace the feckless regime of the Palestine Authority in order to maintain public order and ensure that the electricity works, and the roads are secure, and that bands of jihadist marauders or Shiite terrorists do not massacre entire villages; this action will elicit the reflex condemnation from bored and dispirited Western diplomats. The realization of the Zionist dream will then be consummated not with a bang, but a whimper; the bangs will be much louder elsewhere.