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Last update - 10:49 09/09/2005

The million-and-a-half person gap

By Bennett Zimmerman, Roberta Seid and Michael L. Wise

Major decisions in Israel have been based on the belief that Jews are, or will soon become, a minority west of the Jordan. This belief relies on the Palestine Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS), which reported a 2004 Arab population of 3.8 million in the territories. The PCBS figures are taken directly from a forecast developed in 1998, not from actual demographic data.

Israeli references to the Palestinian Authority's population echo the statistics released from Ramallah without any verification. The Israel Central Bureau of Statistics (ICBS) recently informed the Knesset State Control Committee that since 1995, per the Oslo Accords, no Israeli agency has performed any demographic work in the territories.

In January, we released our study, which measured the Arab population at 2.47 million: 1.40 million in the West Bank and 1.07 million in Gaza. A careful review of actual data recorded by multiple Palestinian and Israeli agencies revealed the following major discrepancies:

*The PCBS' nonresident figures: The head of the PCBS announced in March 1998 that its 1997 census included 325,385 Palestinians living abroad, comprising 13 percent of the population. The PA Central Election Commission confirmed the same in 2004. Reduction: 325,000

*Jerusalem Arabs: Arabs living in Jerusalem and included in Israel's population were double-counted in the PCBS estimate for the West Bank. Reduction: 210,000.

*Fewer births: The PCBS projected 907,000 births from 1997-2003, while the PA Ministry of Health recorded 669,000, a figure confirmed by PA Ministry of Education data for students entering school. Reduction: 238,000.

*Net emigration: Instead of 236,000 immigrants arriving, a net 74,000 left. Reduction: 310,000.

*Internal migration: The PCBS continues to double-count Arabs who have legally moved into Green-Line [pre-1967] Israel as recorded by the Israel Ministry of Interior. Reduction: 105,000.

Since January, the estimates have been tumbling.

The PCBS: In March it modified its forecast by removing post-2001 immigration. The overall forecast was reduced to 178,000 by 2004 and 722,000 by 2015. It's a good start.

The professors: University of Haifa Prof. Arnon Soffer amplified the PCBS claim of 3.8 million in an October 2004 booklet sent to the Knesset. One month later, he published a figure of 2.8 million. In January interviews, 2.9 million. At a university debate in May, 3.4 million. Before a Knesset committee in June, 2.8 million. Take your pick.

Meanwhile, Hebrew University Prof. Sergio Della Pergola defended a firm 3.5 million figure before the Knesset Foreign Affairs Committee in January. Della Pergola engages in a circular exercise that sources PCBS figures and then inflates them further with unsubstantiated growth assumptions. In a series of debates, he was unable or unwilling to answer whether his model includes overseas residents. This is no small error as it builds an unrealistic level of births into all his forecasts.

Both professors now consider plausible estimates below 3 million, while obscuring the fact that previous "indisputable" estimates were overstated by over 1 million. Without missing a beat, they now circulate forecasts that ignore the convergence of rising Jewish and continually declining Arab birthrates. The professors predict inevitable Arab majority with theories of "demographic momentum," but never bother to verify the size of the next childbearing generation. Beware.

The 2004 situation: Jews outnumbered Arabs 3 to 2 (59 to 41 percent) west of the Jordan (including Gaza), a ratio similar to that which existed in 1967. There were twice as many Jews as Arabs (67 vs. 33 percent) in Israel and the West Bank. The "highest in the world" growth rates published by the PCBS and by the professors collapse with the removal of nonresidents, children that were never born and nonexistent immigrants. Indeed, West Bank Arab flight has been so significant that the number of Israeli Jews has grown faster than that of West Bank Arabs since 1997. With growth so close, only Arab migration, either from abroad or from Gaza into the West Bank, could forcefully impact the population balance.

Our study has been well received throughout Israel and the United States, due to its adherence to normative statistical methods and to simple arithmetic. Israel possesses data that could resolve the serious discrepancies identified in our study. An internal ICBS audit from 1996 verified the accuracy of the lower population figures against ID, school and inoculation records. The 1997 PCBS census, after removing nonresidents and Jerusalem Arabs, confirmed previous ICBS counts as well.

Surface-level analyses or ivory-tower forecasts will not do. Historic decisions must be based on accurate facts. The Israeli public deserves the truth.

Bennett Zimmerman, a former strategy consultant, historian Dr. Roberta Seid and Dr. Michael Wise, an expert in mathematical modeling techniques, headed the U.S.-based study "Arab Population in the West Bank and Gaza: The Million-and-a-half Person Gap," excerpted here. For more information, see www.pademographics.com

The Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies plans to publish a version of the Study.
The original study is at The Israel Research Team was led by Yoram Ettinger and included Brig. Gen. (ret.) David Shahaf, Prof. Ezra Sohar, Dr. David Passig, Avraham Shvout, and Yakov Faitelson.

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