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EDITORIAL: Middle East fertility wars

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EDITORIAL:

What does Hillary Rodham Clinton have against Jewish babies? Last week, the secretary of state issued a demarche to Tel Aviv stating that Washington "wants to see a stop to [West Bank] settlements - not some settlements, not outposts, not natural-growth exceptions." The euphemism "natural growth" refers to children. About 9,600 babies were born in West Bank settlements in 2007, and the State Department views these bundles of joy as a threat to its precious peace process.

The demographic issue is central to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. Some Israelis fear that they will be overwhelmed by a rapidly growing Palestinian population, so to the settler population, having children is a patriotic act. The new arrivals require larger houses, schools, playgrounds and other facilities, hence the need for the settlement growth that is upsetting Foggy Bottom.

The no-baby declaration came as welcome news to Palestinians, who are rapidly losing their advantage in the breeding battle. Aggressive international family-planning programs contributed to Palestinian fertility rates dropping almost 30 percent between 2003 and 2008, to 3.31 children born per woman. This compares to 2.77 births in Israel, which experienced a 10 percent increase over the same five-year time period. If these trends continue, Israelis will be outpacing Palestinians in a few years.

For this and religious reasons, abortion is a crime in the Palestinian Authority unless the physical health of the mother is endangered. Palestinians generally are what in American parlance would be called "pro-life." A 2008 study by WorldPublicOpinion.org showed that just 38 percent of Palestinians say abortion should be an individual decision, compared to a global average of 52 percent. Most support some form of government restrictions.

The Obama administration has taken a despicable stand in favor of promoting abortion overseas. On his third day in office, President Obama rescinded the 1985 Mexico City Policy, which stipulated that U.S. Agency for International Development family-planning assistance would be given only to foreign nongovernmental organizations that would pledge not to perform or actively promote abortion as a method of family planning. Mr. Obama also seeks to return U.S. financial support to the United Nations Population Fund, which promotes controversial "family planning" efforts in the developing world.

Many Palestinians view such internationally sanctioned family-planning efforts as a conscious plot to reduce their numbers. In a report in the Hamas-run daily newspaper Filastin, Sari Hanafi, the director of the Palestinian Diaspora and Refugee Center, quoted a colleague who said that "the United States seems to have two ways to control population growth in Palestine: one through the Apache gunships and the other through family planning programs."

The State Department would do well to stay out of this issue. The West Bank settlers in particular will not respond well to finger-wagging from the United States over how many children they choose to have. Behind the euphemism "natural growth" are thousands of babies, girls and boys, who are objects of love and adoration of their doting parents. Secretary Clinton's devotion to the peace process is a much less powerful force than the love of Israeli parents for their children.

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