- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 12, 2001

LONDON Amid American mediation efforts, a new battleground has opened up between Israel and its Arab antagonists. The issue: Whether Israel can be conquered by making Palestinians the majority of the population.

After failing to extinguish Israel in three conventional wars and a war of attrition since its foundation in 1948, many Arab strategists are convinced that this is now the key to destroying the Jewish state without needing an all-out military conquest.

The underlying thinking behind this concept is not entirely novel. In the past some planners considered that Israel could be "killed with kindness." Their belief was that, after Egypt signed a peace treaty in 1979, Israel could be made so dependent on Arab trade and on water supplies piped across the Sinai from the Nile an offer made by the late President Anwar Sadat that it would eventually be unable to withstand Arab demands for a bi-national rather than a Jewish state, and then become progressively "Arabized."

Another popular Arab theory was that if Israel no longer felt it faced an imminent danger of destruction from the outside, its unity in the face of the enemy would evaporate, and supposed internal tensions between Ashkenazi "masters" and Sephardic "minions" would lead to the state imploding.

Now, as the intifada sputters on, leading Arab strategists say they are fine-tuning plans to destroy Israel by using the "population bomb."

The prime proponent of this conquest by demography is Wahid Abdel Maguid, chief editor of the Arab Strategic Report, an annual publication of the Al Ahram Institute, Egypt's premier think tank. It's part of the group that publishes Al-Ahram, the semiofficial newspaper.

"We are capable of increasing the demographic threat against Israel if we demonstrate the necessary determination," Mr. Maguid said in a recent interview with the London-based Arabic newspaper Al-Hayat.

Currently, there are around 1.2 million Arab Israelis and some 5 million Israeli Jews, but the Arab birthrate is far higher than that of the Jews, and Mr. Maguid estimates that simply by natural increase the Arab population will equal the Jewish population in 34 years.

However, Mr. Maguid outlines a five-point strategy for making sure this "population bomb" can be accelerated, hence defeating Israel without an all-out war:

•Limit and even reverse immigration of Jews from the former Soviet Union countries.

•Bring Arabs living inside the pre-1967 borders into close alignment with their fellow Palestinians, encourage them to spurn their identities as Israeli citizens and give them decision-making roles in the anti-Israel campaign.

•Maintain an ongoing "intifada" to discourage Jewish immigration and encourage Israeli emigration.

•Continually build worldwide condemnation of Israel as a racist state to prevent Israeli pressure against Arabs to leave Israel or to reduce their birthrates.

•Promote an influx of Arabs into pre-1967 Israel through infiltration and marriage.

The population battle has been joined already. Not only has the intifada damaged Israel's economic output, living conditions and tourism, it has led to far fewer immigrants coming into the Jewish state.

Apparently in response, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon last month announced his government's "plan to bring 1 million Jews to Israel by 2020." He identified as potential immigrants "hundreds of thousands [more Jews] in the former Soviet Union, about 230,000 Jews in Argentina "in dire material straits," as well as more than 100,000 in Brazil, 150,000 in Mexico, 600,000 in France, 80,000 in South Africa and thousands in Ethiopia.

Mr. Sharon added: "Israel is the only place in the world where Jews can continue to live as Jews and withstand the danger of assimilation. … By 2020 we should gather most of the Jewish nation in the State of Israel."

Dore Gold, former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations, added: "The country is strong today, but with a million more Jews it will become even stronger. When Israel overcomes its current difficulties, we can also expect it to attract Western Jews thanks to its thriving high-tech and biotech industries. The quality of life is rising all the time."

Already the Palestinian Authority has recognized the dangers of any new wave of Jewish immigration. Its spokesman has condemned Mr. Sharon's proposal as a "powder keg" likely to set off a new explosion. His statement expressed fear the new immigrants could be settled in the West Bank and Gaza.

Mr. Maguid's fear would be that these new immigrants settle within Israel's pre-1967 borders, as the vast majority of immigrants have, and make Israel more Jewish. Mr. Maguid said success for the Arabs can only come about if their leaders "heal themselves from the disease of suspecting and fearing" the Palestinians living within Israel's pre-1967 borders.

He proposes that the future conduct of anti-Israel actions be spearheaded by its Arab citizens, though coordination with Arab states and Palestinians living outside Israel. Mr. Maguid recommends that infiltrators into Israel should make it a policy to marry Israeli Arabs, making it virtually impossible for Israel to expel the illegal immigrants. Any such expulsions would be denounced by Arab propagandists as racism, said the Al Ahram strategist.

As the Arab population increases, he expects Israel will introduce repressive steps to "deny some of the social rights of the 1948 Palestinians" a term widely used to avoid stating that they are Israeli Arabs and again open Israeli authorities to accusations of racial discrimination.

At present, Israel contends that its Arab citizens, though restricted on where they can buy land, otherwise have the same civil rights as Israeli Jews.

The Arab infiltration is apparently already under way though not yet, perhaps, in the focused and organized way Mr. Maguid advocates. According to Israeli estimates, more than 50,000 thousand non-Israeli Arabs have crossed unobserved into Israel since the signing of the Oslo accords in 1993. They are mainly Palestinians, Jordanians and Egyptians who have taken up residence in Arab communities in Israel.

Even when infiltrators are caught, it's not easy to return them.

Jordan generally refuses to accept Palestinians, even if they have Jordanian papers. Israel then deports them to the West Bank, but the Isaelis admit it's impossible to stop people from simply crossing over the "Green Line" back into pre-1967 Israel.

Transferring the infiltrators into the already overcrowded Gaza Strip is more secure, in that there are well-guarded fences surrounding the whole area. Mr. Maguid sees these infiltrators as merely a harbinger of a more organized influx that would work whether or not there is a neighboring Palestinian state.

Part of the Israeli-Palestinian agreement, should one come about, might be a very limited "right of return" of Arab residents of the pre-Israel British-run protectorate of Palestine. In all likelihood this would be restricted to well below 100,000, based on reuniting separated families.

However, in Mr. Maguid's view, even this would help. A wave of immigration to Israel from the Soviet Union in the 1980s and early '90s bolstered the Jewish population, though many of the immigrants turned out to have dubious Jewish roots.

Mr. Maguid says a key plank of the new Arab strategy should be to undermine Israeli efforts to persuade Jews to move to Israel. He urges wide-scale Arab activity to meet with candidates for immigration to Israel, especially in the ex-Soviet states, and tell them that living in Israel will present more daily hardships and security hazards than in their present countries of residence.

Continuation of the intifada, he argues, will "foil the Zionist efforts to increase immigration and may even encourage emigration."

The key argument to make to potential immigrants to Israel is to stress the feelings of "marginalization and disappointment" that he says now exist among ex-Soviet immigrants.

Both Mr. Sharon and Mr. Maguid would agree on one thing: to the winner of the population contest would go control over the nature of the state. Should the Arabs become the majority within the boundaries of pre-1967 Israel, Mr. Maguid has no doubt about the type of state that would be imposed.

"Palestine can be made Arab again Arab, and not bi-national Arab Palestine," he wrote.

In the new Arab-dominated state that Mr. Maguid envisions, those Jews who wish to stay could live "strong and respected under the umbrella of our Arab culture."

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