w w w . h a a r e t z . c o m

Critics slam report debunking demographic threat

By Yair Ettinger

An extra-academic document that debunks one of the foundations of the disengagement plan, "the demographic bomb," will be presented in Washington today to a prestigious academic institution with substantial influence on the Bush administration. The document, which Haaretz has obtained, argues that 2.4 million Palestinians live in the West Bank and Gaza Strip today, and not the 3.8 million claimed by the Palestinian Authority.

In sharp contrast to population studies conducted in Israel by professors Arnon Sofer and Sergio della Pergola, the document argues that Jews continue to maintain a solid 60 percent majority between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.

An Israeli-American group whose members are clearly identified with the right authored the ABC Demographic Project. The group undercuts a prevailing assumption in Israel's public debate - that Jews have ceased, or will soon cease to be, a majority in that territory. The demographic danger is not "all it's made out to be," the writers state.

Della Pergola called the document "groundless," politically slanted and baseless from a research perspective. None of the signatories to the document is a professional in demographic research. Among its authors are former Israeli consul in Texas Yoram Ettinger (no relation to this reporter), former West Bank Civil Administration head Brigadier General (res.) David Shahaf and former Israeli health official Professor Ezra Zohar.

The research was initiated and funded by Los Angeles Jewish businessman Ben Zimmerman and U.S.-based partners, historian Dr. Roberta Seid of the University of South Carolina and businessman Michael Wise.

A great deal of the interest in the document stems from the seal of approval it received from U.S. demographers which paved the way for the invitation to its authors to present their findings to influential conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute in Washington.

Later this week, the document will be presented in New York to the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations.

The document claims the updated 2004 statistic presented by the Central Bureau of Statistics on the Palestinian population in the territories - 3.8 million people - is unreliable. It doesn't incorporate emigration from PA territory, which they estimate at hundreds of thousands, a drop in fertility, or tens of thousands of deaths, and it includes about 200,000 residents of East Jerusalem, who are also counted in the Israeli census.

According to the document, Palestinian population growth was 2.4 percent in 2003, not the 4.5 percent reported by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics.

In 2003, the population in Israel grew 1.7 percent.

PCBS data is based on a 1997 census. The figures are controversial, a controversy revived in recent days prior to the Palestinian elections, when the Palestinian legislature decided to update the voter registration list, adopting statistics from the population registry, which added 600,000 eligible voters to the rolls.

Data on the dead

Various Palestinian and foreign sources claim the population registry includes data on many who are dead or living abroad.

The ABC document claims data from Israeli Border Police indicates consistent negative emigration from the territories of about 10,000 departures annually. Its authors allege that 300,000 Palestinian expatriates living in the U.S., Arab countries, Europe and Latin America appear in the population registry. They support the claim by quoting Norwegian research institute Fafo, situated in Ramallah, that found negative Palestinian immigration of 100,000 in 2001-2002.

Yoram Ettinger said, "The demographic issue has great importance in shaping the approach of the administration, the press and the public on a critical matter to the future of Israeli society. These positions should be determined based on facts and not distortions."

Works by Sofer and della Pergola, based largely on data from the PCBS, find the Jewish population between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea is currently about 50 percent. Della Pergola deducted the population of East Jerusalem and found there were 3.53 million Palestinians in PA territory at the beginning of 2004. Sofer estimates Jews will be a minority of 40 percent in 2020, while della Pergola maintains the figure will be 46.7 percent (including foreign workers and non-Jews).

But della Pergola rejects the new document entirely. He refers to a figure that has no basis in the Israeli population registry, a claim in the document that 300,000 Palestinians have become Israeli citizens since 1967, noting the lack of segmentation of the statistics according to age, "critical in any Israeli-Palestinian demographic study."

He added, "The authors seek to prove the political theory that the status quo is good for us and time is on our side. They are trying to attach some demographic claims to that thesis." The demographer claims there are distorted figures in the document, in addition to a lack of familiarity with professional literature and accepted research methods." Sofer's response was unavailable.