Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

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23 Shevat 5765 - February 2, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Israel's Demographic Problem Does not Exist

by Yated Ne'eman Staff

In 1997 the PLO published a report, "Demographic Indicators of the Palestinian Territory, 1997-2015," based on a census carried out by the PA's Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS). The report projected that the Arab population west of the Jordan River will outnumber the Jewish population by 2015.

These numbers were immediately adopted by prominent Israeli demographers, who warned that by 2020 Jews will make up between 40 and 46 percent of the overall population of Israel and the territories. The Palestinian projections put the Arab population of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip at 3.83 million and the Israeli Arab population at 1.33 million for a total of 5.16 million Arabs west of the Jordan River. Israel, with 5.24 million Jews has no Jewish majority.

These statistics, which accepted as a basis for planning by everyone from politicians to diplomats to defense officials. Though at first they were worried over by the Left, in an interview with Yediot Acharonot in December 2003, Vice Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said: "Above all hovers the cloud of demographics. It will come down on us not in the end of days, but in just another few years."

But a team of American and Israeli researchers presented a study of the Palestinian population statistics at the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation in Washington. Led by American businessman Bennett Zimmerman and Israeli strategic consultant Yoram Ettinger, they tried various means of cross-checking and comparing the Palestinian data to independent sources of demographic information. For example, they compared the PCBS data to birth and death records published by the PA's own Health Ministry. The checked the PCBS data against immigration and emigration data from Israel's Border Police and against internal migration records recorded by the Israeli Interior Ministry.

The researchers also compared Palestinian population data from the PCBS to voting records of the Palestinian Central Elections Commission in the 1996 Palestinian elections and this week's Palestinian elections, as well as to the Israeli Civil Administration's population survey of Palestinians carried out in the 1990s before the transfer of authority to the PA.

The PCBS data was checked against population surveys carried out by UNRWA and the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics (ICBS) in the mid-1990s, and against World Bank Palestinian population studies.

All of the checking led to the conclusion that the Palestinian population forecasts are faulty in the extreme.

For one thing, the PCBS count includes the 230,000 Arab residents of Jerusalem and counts them again as residents of Israel.

The PCBS numbers also project Palestinian natural growth as 4 to 5 percent per year, among the highest in the world. Yet Palestinian Ministry of Health records published annually since 1996 show that Palestinian natural growth rates in Judea, Samaria and Gaza at around 3 percent, closer to the rates of neighboring countries such as Egypt and Jordan. The original data also show a steady pattern of decrease in natural growth leading to a natural growth rate in 2003 of just 2.6 percent.

Indeed, the total fertility rate of Palestinian women has been trending downward in recent years, along with that of Arab women throughout the Middle East. Palestinian women in Judea and Samaria averaged 4.1 children in 1999 and 3.4 in 2003. Palestinian women in Gaza averaged 5 children each in 1999 and 4.7 in 2003. The multi-year average of Israel's compound growth rate from 1990-2004 is 2.5 percent. Israel's growth rate went down to 1.7 percent between 2000 and 2004, but a similar decline occurred in Gaza, where growth decreased from 3.9 percent to 3.0 percent, and in Judea and Samaria where growth declined from 2.7 percent to 1.8 percent.

The PCBS also projected a net population increase of 1.5 percent per year as a result of immigration from abroad. But the study's authors found that emigration from the Palestinian areas has exceeded immigration every year except one.

The PCBS numbers also include some 200,000 Palestinians who live abroad, about 13 percent of the Palestinians counted in 1997. According to the PCBS, the population of Nablus is about the same as that of Tel Aviv, but most press reports place it at only about 120,000 — less than a third of Tel Aviv.

The Israeli Interior Ministry announced in November 2003 that in the preceding decade some 150,000 residents of the Palestinian Authority had legally moved to Israel (including Jerusalem). These 150,000 residents remain on the Palestinian population rolls.

It is interesting to note this internal migration is largely responsible for the high 3.1 percent annual growth in the Israeli Arab population. The Israeli Arab natural growth rate is only 2.1 percent, a figure which is below the Israeli Jewish growth rate.

The highest current estimate of the study for the current Palestinian population puts the Palestinian population at 3.06 million, or 770,000 less than the PCBS number. This number leaves most PCBS assumptions in place and simply corrects for the double counting.

The average of the last two estimates brought the final projected number of Palestinians in Gaza, Judea and Samaria to 2.42 million, only about two-thirds of the 3.8 million that is the current "official" estimate.

The study claims that the Jewish majority west of the Jordan River has been stable and is likely to remain for the foreseeable future. In 1967 Jews made up 64.1 percent of the overall population and in 2004 they made up 59.5 percent. Inside Israel proper, including Jerusalem, Jews make up 80 percent of the population.

If the report is correct, it means that many of the planning assumptions of Israeli leaders were wrong. The entire 117- page report can be accessed online at


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