Israel, Ireland and the peace of the aging
Sometimes, the best thing to do is nothing at all.
A generation from now, the Palestinians will make peace with Israel, for a
simple reason: they will grow up - literally. Palestinian Arabs comprise one of
the fastest-aging populations in the word.
United States President Barack Obama was misinformed when he told the
America-Israel Political Action Committee May 22 that "the number of
Palestinians living west of the Jordan River is growing rapidly and
fundamentally reshaping the demographic realities of both Israel and the
In fact, Palestinian fertility on the West Bank has already converged on the
Israeli fertility rate of three children per woman, if we believe the Palestine
Ministry of Health rather than the
Palestine Authority's Statistics Bureau.
There is endless debate about the Palestinian population numbers. Israel's
peace party has advanced the "demographic argument" for years, and has been
consistently wrong. The decisive data point is that Palestinian Arab fertility
has plunged and, in consequence, the Arab population will age rapidly. That
augurs well for peace, a generation from now. After three-quarters of a century
of warfare, starting with the 1937 Arab uprising against British rule in
Palestine, it's not a hardship to wait one more generation.
In this regard,the Northern Ireland peace agreement of 1998 is worth
revisiting. At the Obama White House, the Irish sense of victimhood blends
easily with the president's own anti-colonial resentment, and the Third World
sympathies of such advisers as the Iranian-born Valerie Jarrett.
Ireland has been the White House template for a "peace process", which is why
Obama brought in as chief negotiator former Senator George Mitchell, who
negotiated the Irish settlement in 1998. Samantha Power, Obama's foreign policy
aid in the Senate and now head of the National Security Council's human rights
desk, figures prominently in the president's inner council. Born in Dublin,
Power brings the sensibility of post-Catholic Ireland to international affairs:
sensitivity to minority rights, horror at violence, and an urge to wield
military power on behalf of beleaguered ethnic groups.
Power persuaded the president to intervene in Libya to save civilian lives,
perhaps the silliest and least successful use of American arms since the
founding of the republic. Like Ireland's president Mary Robinson, the former
human rights chief at the United Nations whom Obama gave the Presidential Medal
of Freedom, Power identifies the Palestinians with the Catholic Irish, as a
putative victim oppressed by a colonial power.
Leave aside the obvious differences (for example, every Catholic cleric of
standing denounced Irish Republican Army terrorism, while plenty of prominent
Muslim clerics endorse suicide bombing). Time heals some wounds. Northern
Ireland's guerilla war between the Protestant majority and the Catholic
minority ended in 1998 for a number of reasons.
Prominent among them was the simple fact that the hell-raising youngsters of
the 1970s had become middle-aged fellows with jobs and families. Former Senator
Mitchell negotiated the "Good Friday" agreement that effectively ended the
conflict. But he resigned in frustration last month as President Obama's
negotiator in the Middle East.
As a student journalist, I traveled in Northern Ireland in 1970, gulping
improbable quantities of Guinness with Catholic radicals in Londonderry and
Belfast. Everyone was young, and everyone was mad. I watched the Protestants'
Orange Order march on July 12, the anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne in
1692 that finished off Irish resistance. I joined a busload of protesters off
to demonstrate at Armagh Prison in support of Bernadette Devlin, then the
heroine of the nationalist cause.
The Ulster Defense Regiment stopped us at a roadblock, waved us out of the bus,
and stuck submachine guns in our ribs. "Don't worry," said the fellow next to
me. "They don't have any bullets." The protesters sang the theme song to Dad's
Army (a British comedy about the elderly Home Guard of World War II)
and jeered at the Protestant cops. We were drunk, and they were drunk. It's
surprising more people weren't killed. No-one was sober enough to care.The
young IRA types I met didn't want peace. They wanted to raise hell and they
held their lives cheap.
By the time George Mitchell came around to mediate in 1998, the hell-raisers of
1970, or what was left of them, had families and gave some thought to how to
pay a mortgage. Prison and bullets had winnowed the ranks of the hard core.
Distribution of Irish population by age group, 1970 vs 2010
Source: United Nations Population Division
Ireland's population was front-loaded into the teens and twenties back in 1970,
when the troubles were at their worst. By 1998, the bulge in the population
distribution had moved into the thirty-to-forty-year bracket. The Irish got
older, and got tired of killing. Something like this well may occur in the
Palestinian territories over the next generation.
The data shown above for Ireland are quite accurate; Palestinian demographic
data are notoriously unreliable, for the Palestine Authority records more
phantom aid recipients than ever the Cook County Democratic Party recorded
phantom voters. According to an authoritative study by the Begin-Sadat Center
for Strategic Studies , the West Bank and Gaza population in 2004 was only
2.5 million, rather than the 3.8 million claimed by the Palestinian
authorities. The numbers are inflated to increase foreign aid and exaggerate
the importance of the Palestinian population. The Begin-Sadat Center observes:
Palestine Central Bureau of Statistics] projected that the number of births in
the Territories would total almost 908,000 for the seven-year period from 1997
to 2003. Yet, the actual number of births documented by the PA Ministry of
Health for the same period was significantly lower at 699,000, or 238,000 fewer
births than had been forecast by the PCBS... The size of the discrepancy
accelerated over time. Whereas the PCBS predicted there would be over 143,000
births in 2003, the PA Ministry of Health reported only 102,000 births, which
pointed to a PCBS forecast 40% beyond actual results.
United Nations data are adopted without revision from the Palestinian
statistics bureau, which inflates birth data by 25% to 40%, and also counts
hundreds of thousands of Palestinians living abroad as if they were still
residents. It is clear that the overall population estimates are much too high
- perhaps by 1 million of the supposed 3.5 million total - but less clear how
much of the overestimate is assigned to each age bracket.
Palestinian fertility, report by Statistics Bureau vs Palestine Ministry of
Sources: UN Population Division, Begin-Sadat Center
Bearing in mind that the data are unreliable, the age distribution chart below
is nonetheless indicative.
Distribution of population in Palestinian Territories by age group, 2010 vs 2040
Source: United Nations Population Division
Around 80,000 Palestinian men are employed by one or another of the "security
forces" in Gaza and the West Bank. The Palestine Authority's grossly inflated
numbers claim that there were 587,000 men aged 20 to 40 in the territories; the
actual number is probably around 400,000, which means that one in five has a
job carrying a gun. Taking unemployment into account, that implies that one in
three Palestinian men with a full-time job is a gunman.
That may change over time. 5,800 Palestinians are working at technology
companies on the West Bank, and the booming Israeli software sector is
outsourcing to the West Bank, with a third of Palestinian software companies
filling orders for Israeli firms, Bloomberg News reported March 15.
And the top school for Palestinian computer science students is Ariel
University in Samaria, in the midst of a settlement near Nablus.
"Administrators at the Ariel University Center are proud to have the Arab
students, saying their enrollment is an example of loyalty and equality among
Israeli citizens. For their part, the Arab students seem not to feel
uncomfortable attending the college despite its reputation and location," wrote
the Chronicle of Higher Education.
"On campus the fact that we are in occupied territory is irrelevant - it
doesn't affect us at all. We leave all the politics outside," the Chronicle
quoted Manar Dewany, a 20-year-old student in math and computer science who
commutes each day from the Israeli Arab town of Taybeh. "I never even
considered it a reason for not coming here," Ms Dewany added. "I have no
problem with it. Why not come here? This place is full of Arabs."
No one outsources computer technology to Egypt, where very few of each year's
crop of 700,000 college graduates meets world standards. The education that
young Arabs receive at the settlers' university on the West Bank is better than
anything available among Israel's Arab neighbors. In a quiet way, the settlers
of Samaria may do more for peace than the diplomats.
By 2040, the stone-throwing kids of the First Intifada will be close to
retirement age, and the gun-toting young men who dominate today's Palestinian
employment picture (or those who still are alive) will have families. If they
missed out on high-tech jobs, the spillover from the West Bank's economic
growth - driven in turn by Israel's economic miracle - will keep them employed
in service industries. Absent additional violence, the West Bank will flourish
while Egypt and Syria descend into penury and chaos.
There is no urgency to make peace, except in the minds of the Palestinians'
present leaders. The world has allowed them to rule a little fiefdom as
warlords of private armies, with little accounting for billions in foreign aid,
and the opportunity to indulge in a grand ideological tantrum on the tab of
The window is closing for radical Islam. That makes the present an
exceptionally dangerous period, because the radicals know that it is closing.
Contrary to what Obama said on May 22, the radicals understand better than
anyone else that time and demographics are against them. The Palestinians of
the West Bank are better off than any other Arabs in the region by any tangible
measure - health, literacy, higher education, per capital income.
They have the good luck to reside next to one of the world's most dynamic
economies. In a generation the world may have moved beyond the likes of
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. That gives Abbas an incentive to
gamble while he still has chips on the table. If the radicals can be contained
through the present generation, though, they can be extirpated in the next.