Men, Karl Marx noted, make history -- but rarely as they please. Surely one of the most binding constraints on political leaders is where their countries are located, and who lives in them. Geography and demography may not make for ironclad destiny, but they are powerful and often immutable forces in shaping the fate of nations.
Before U.S. President Barack Obama embarks on his trip to Israel next week, he ought to take a quick tour around Israel's demographic neighborhood. It may just hold the key to understanding why some of Israel's leaders -- though Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may not be among them -- are willing to sign on to the creation of a Palestinian state, and what sort of deal would appeal to them.
In the quest to understand Israeli demographics, there is no better guide than Sergio Dellapergola. The Italian-born researcher holds a Ph.D. in demography from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where he is now a professor emeritus of Israel-Diaspora relations. He has also lent his skills to the Israeli government, serving as a consultant to Israeli presidents and the Jerusalem municipality, among others.
In the run-up to Obama's trip to Israel, I asked Dellapergola to identify the 10 most salient facts about Israel's current demographic reality, and what they mean for Israel's future as a Jewish state.
1. More than 12 million people currently live in the territory between the Mediterranean shores and the Jordan River, what is known today as Israel and the Palestinian territories. Of these, about 8 million are legal residents of Israel -- a total that includes those who live within its internationally recognized boundaries, East Jerusalem, the Golan Heights, and the Jewish population in the West Bank. About 1.6 million Palestinians live in the Gaza Strip, and about 2.3 million live in the West Bank, not including East Jerusalem. Another 300,000 documented or undocumented foreign workers and refugees also live here, mostly from African countries.
2. Of Israel's legal population of about 8 million, 6 million are Jews, over 300,000 are non-Jewish relatives of Jews who immigrated in the framework of Israel's Law of Return, and 1.7 million are Arabs -- mostly Muslims, with Christian and Druze minorities. Of the Muslim population, about 300,000 live in East Jerusalem. Of Israel's population of 6 million Jews, about 350,000 live in the West Bank.