Mideast update

THERE is, of course, no such thing as a lull in the 40-year war between Arabs and Jews in the Middle East. Last week two Arab guerrillas penetrated Israeli defenses in hang gliders. One killed six and wounded seven Israeli soldiers before being himself killed. Rioting and killing are frequent, particularly on the Israeli-occupied West Bank of the Jordan River. But there is change in the broader context of the Arab-Jewish war. Two recent events are symptomatic of the change. Both occurred at the recent Arab League summit in Amman, Jordan.

One was the decision of the Arab countries to allow those members that so wished to renew formal relations with Egypt. Egypt remains expelled from the league as punishment for having recognized Israel after the Camp David meeting. But within the first week after the vote in Amman, nine of the Arab countries had restaffed their embassies in Cairo.

The other was the absence at the meeting of agitation for renewed action against Israel and absence of serious talk about a possible international conference about the region.

Partly this was due to the preoccupation of the Arab countries with the Iraq-Iran war. Iran is at the moment a far more threatening enemy of the Arabs than is Israel. But there is another factor of more importance to the attitudes of both Arabs and Jews toward each other.

That other factor is that the Arab population in Palestine is increasing faster than is the Jewish population. It is increasing partly because of the higher Arab birthrate, and partly because many Jews have left Israel and very few Jews from the outside world are going to Israel. There is now a net outflow of Jews from Israel and no visible reason to expect a large new net inflow of Jews to Israel.

One telling statistic is that in 1985 there were more Arab children than Jewish children below the age of 4 in Israel and the territories under Israeli control - 370,000 Arab children to 365,000 Jewish children. The Arab birthrate in 1985 was running at 2.6 percent. The Jewish rate was 1.3 percent. If these birthrates were to remain constant over the next 12 years, there would be by the year 2000 nearly as many Arabs as Jews in Israel, plus the occupied territories; there might even be more Arabs.

The difference will depend on the migration factor, part of which is known officially and part of which is in a twilight zone of dual nationalities.

Officially, there are 3.55 million Jews in Israel. But American diplomats who have served in Israel say that at least 400,000 of these actually live in the United States. The figure might be higher. Officially, Israel received 10,000 new Jewish immigrants in 1985, and 9,000 more in 1986. But over the same two years, 29,000 Jews left Israel, mostly for the US.

Officially more than half of the Jews in Israel today come from Africa and Asia. These have few if any ties of kinship with the older Jewish residents. Most of those came from Eastern Europe (the survivors from the Holocaust), and almost all have ties of kinship with the Jewish community in the US.

Early Zionists dreamed of an ``in-gathering'' of the world Jewish community in Israel. If most of the 15 million Jews had gone there, or still want to go there, Israel would need far more territory. Menachem Begin wanted to annex the whole West Bank to make room for the Jews he hoped would come.

But few American Jews have gone to Israel, and many of them have returned. Also, Soviet Jews who get out show a marked preference for the US over Israel. The tendency is for Jews of Eastern Europe origin to gravitate toward New York, not toward Israel.

These facts make a big difference in Israel itself. The case for annexation of the occupied territories dwindles as the Jews of European background flow toward New York. The Arabs no longer feel that they must make war tomorrow to regain their homelands. Time is on their side.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.