And although the haredim (ultra-Orthodox) certainly contribute to this trend, the latest evidence from experts Evgenia Bystrov and Arnon Sofer suggests that childbearing among haredim is falling while among the secular population it is slowly rising.
These trends are having a major impact beyond the Green Line, too. According to Neve Gordon, a geographer at Ben-Gurion University, and Yinon Cohen, an academic at Columbia, births to Jews living in the West Bank have grown five-fold in the past 20 years, while Jews moving to the West Bank have more than halved in number. Overwhelmingly today, the growth of the Jewish population in the settlements is organic and due to a high birth rate rather than to arrival from pre-1967 Israel. Gordon and Cohen's work suggests that the fertility rate of the burgeoning ultra-Orthodox population in Judea and Samaria is now no less than two-and-a-half times that of the local Arab population.
This information should be handled with care. It does not have a direct bearing on the hotly debated question of the total number of Arabs living in the West Bank and what the impact of their incorporation within Israel would be. Nor does it necessarily suggest that Jews will grow as a share of the population of Israel with or without the West Bank; issues of mortality as well as fertility will impact this, and so will movements of populations in and out of the area.
However, it is worth noting that, at least within Israel itself, Arab demographic momentum is flagging.
Whereas in 2003 the Arab share of Israel's population grew nearly one quarter of one percentage point, last year it grew less than one tenth of one percentage point.
My objective in presenting this information to the public is not to support one side or the other in Israel's "Left-Right" debate. Indeed, both sides can take some comfort from it; for the Right it can be used to argue that a territorially maximalist position is at least more demographically feasible than it was a decade or two ago, from the Left's point of view it can be used to deflate what is sometimes taken to be demographic panic aimed at the Arab citizens of Israel. Whatever policy conclusions are drawn, the quality of the debate will surely be improved by a greater appreciation of the facts.