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Pressuring the wrong country [Commentary]

The Obama administration is showing it can be tough on foreign policy. Unfortunately, that toughness is not directed at Russia and its incursion into Crimea, but at Israel, America's ally.

In an interview with President Obama, prior to the Washington arrival of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, Jeffrey Goldberg of Bloomberg.com writes that the president planned to tell Mr. Netanyahu "that his country could face a bleak future -- one of international isolation and demographic disaster -- if he refuses to endorse a U.S.-drafted framework agreement for peace with the Palestinians." Goldberg adds, "Obama will warn Netanyahu that time is running out for Israel as a Jewish-majority democracy."

"There is an existential threat to Israel," Secretary of State John Kerry told th Saban Forum in December, "...that makes it impossible for Israel to preserve its future as a democratic, Jewish state without resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a two-state solution." Scare tactic, or no?

There are two obvious flaws in this approach toward Israel. One is that the proposed peace plan cannot work without Palestinian-Israeli reciprocity. For decades, anti-Semitic pronouncements and propaganda have dominated radical Muslim thinking. Wars and terrorist attacks have been launched against Israel in hopes of ridding the region of any Jewish presence. In some Arab textbooks, in videos, in the Arab press and in fundamentalist Muslim sermons, the aim of radical Islamists is to wipe Israel off the map by whatever means necessary.

No entity that believes it has direct orders from God to kill those who do not believe as they do is going to anger God by making agreements with people they regard as infidels. The former president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, articulated the thinking of many Arabs and Muslims when he said in 2005 that Israel is a "tumor" and that a Palestinian state is just the "first step" toward Israel's annihilation.

The other flaw in the administration's thinking is the "demographic disaster" it claims Israel faces if it does not work to establish a Palestinian state.

According to data compiled by former Israeli diplomat Yoram Ettinger, drawn from the 2013 CIA World Factbook and other sources, the idea that Israel is being overwhelmed by an Arab population with a higher birthrate is incorrect.

Mr. Ettinger points to an article written by Rasha Abou Jalal, a Gaza journalist, who wrote: "While Islam calls for believers to bear many children and prohibits the use of birth control, new Palestinian generations are defying tradition and leaning toward limiting the number of children they have." Mr. Jalal credits, or blames, a desire among Palestinians to improve their lives.

"The unprecedented decline in Muslim fertility," writes Mr.  Ettinger, "has been driven by modernity (including) accelerated women's rights, urbanization, education, career mentality and family planning."

A June 2012 study by the Washington-based Population Reference Bureau (PRB) supports Mr. Ettinger's position. It found that "72 percent of 15- to 49-year-old Palestinian married women prefer to avoid pregnancy, as do 78 percent in Morocco, 71 percent in Jordan, 69 percent in Egypt and Libya, 68 percent inSyria, 63 percent in Iraq and 61 percent in Yemen." The PRB also states "a growing number of women are using contraception, as family planning services have expanded in the Arab region."

Meanwhile, the birthrate among Israeli women has increased markedly. Ettinger writes of a "robust 66 percent Jewish majority in the combined area of Judea, Samaria and pre-1967 Israel." By contrast, Jews were in the minority in earlier eras, comprising only 9 percent of that region's population in 1900 and 39 percent in 1947. Writes Mr. Ettinger: "All doomsday demographic projections have failed due to their reliance on past demographic data, underestimating Jewish fertility, overestimating Arab fertility and discarding the feasibility of significant waves of Aliyah (Jewish immigration)."

Since 2010, five nuclear scientists have been assassinated in Iran. Some believe Israel is somehow responsible, which, according to CBSNews.com, prompted the Obama administration to send "strong signals" that the U.S. "did not want Israel to continue the assassinations." Yet, the president has not taken sufficient action to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, which then could be used against Israel. Which deadly outcome is the most egregious?

When it comes to Israel and Crimea, this administration has it backward.

Cal Thomas is a syndicated columnist. He can be reached at tcaeditors@tribune.com.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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