Dr. James Zogby, the founder and president of the American Arab Institute (AAI), authored an article for the AAI website earlier this month which bore the seemingly benign title What Arabs Can Do to Support Peace. In it, Zogby lamented what he perceived to be the ongoing hardships created for Palestinians by Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Jerusalem. Zogby states in 1991, the Israeli settler population in the West Bank and Jerusalem was 243,000 and nearing 300,000 by the end of 1994. Zogby contends "there are now almost 500,000 settlers in the occupied lands!"
By Zogby's calculations, that's a doubling of the settler population since 1991. Zogby made no corresponding assessment of the Palestinian population in the West Bank and Jerusalem.
A review of the CIA World Factbook, widely considered a solidly reliable statistical database, listed the 2009 population in the West Bank and Jerusalem:
Palestinian population: 2,461,267
Israeli settlers in the West Bank: 187,000
Israeli settlers in East Jerusalem: 177,000 (fewer than)
This would make the total Israeli settler population 364,000 – far less than Zogby's 500,000 - among an overwhelming Palestinian population of nearly 2.5 million. Assuming Zogby's 1991 settler population of 243,000 is accurate, the settler growth rate is close to 50%, not 100%. In 2008, the State Department's Voice of America reported that in the previous decade Palestinian population in the Territories grew by 30%, from 2.89 million to 3.76 million.
But more important than quarreling over numbers is Zogby's failure to mention Israel's complete withdrawal from Gaza, an effort that rewarded Israelis with bombardment by thousands of Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) rockets, suicide bomb attacks and cross-border raids by Islamic terrorists based in Gaza. Zogby focuses solely on a demand that Israel halt all settlement construction, remove outposts, checkpoints and roadblocks in the West Bank and Jerusalem. Zogby does not profess that Palestinian terrorists would stand down from attacking Israelis if those outposts, checkpoints and roadblocks were dismantled. The reality is Israelis have their Gaza experience by which to judge likely Palestinian reaction to another unilateral withdrawal.
Zogby further called on Israel to engage in "serious" negotiations with the Palestinian Authority (PA). He apparently believes such past negotiations have been lighthearted. Zogby ignored the very serious threat posed to the PA by Hamas, and how that threat might well result in there being no PA. With whom would Israel then negotiate? Hamas? Curiously, Zogby never mentioned Hamas in his article.
It's not clear whether Arab states would change their stances if Israel implemented the actions he recommended (ending settlements, removing proven security measures and getting "serious" in negotiations with the PA). He would have Arab states send representatives to participate in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations but he doesn't suggest those states halt their financial and military support to the likes of Hamas and Hizballah.
Zogby cautions that "positive Arab gestures should not be seen as a reward for Israel" and "the Arab gestures offered must be carefully considered, so as to be calibrated...and conditioned on Israeli performance."
Zogby's unilateral demand for Israeli action and his failure to call on terrorist groups to cease their violence and seek peace speaks volumes about his true posture.