Last update - 18:07 17/06/2006
A blue-and-white future?
There is no demographic problem in Israel, there never was one, and
most important, there is not going to be one - that is the clear
conclusion reached by anyone who accepts the demographic forecast
presented by an American-Israeli team of experts. A year and a half
ago, this team, headed by former strategy consultant Bennett Zimmerman,
kicked up a storm with its contention that there were 2.5 million
Palestinians in the Palestinian Authority (West Bank and Gaza) in 2004,
and not 3.8 million, as claimed by the Palestinian Central Bureau of
Statistics, upon whose data most of the demographers rely.
the team has published its predictions for 2025. According to the
median forecast, 7.5 million Jews will be living in Israel and the West
Bank then, constituting 63 percent of the population, as compared to
4.45 million Arabs (of these, 2.25 million in the West Bank), or 37
percent of the population. In other words, for every Arab, there will
be two Jews. The population in Israel proper will be 77 percent Jews
and 23 percent Arabs - not much different from today.
are the assumptions that guided the American-Israeli team in its highly
optimistic forecast: There are only 1.4 million Palestinians in the
West Bank today. The fertility rate of Jews in Israel is higher than
that taken into account by the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics in
its forecasts, while the fertility rate of the Arabs in Israel is
plunging. Immigration to Israel is expected to continue in its present
So what about the Gaza Strip? The one area that has
been left out of the team's report, for some reason, is Gaza. True,
Israel has disengaged from it, so presenting data that exclude it might
be considered legitimate. But to completely ignore the Arab population
living between the Mediterranean and the Jordan? That doesn't seem
Seeing that Zimmerman's team didn't do it, I took the
figures for Gaza and factored them into the demographic forecast for
The current state of affairs can be described thus: In
2004, according to the U.S.-Israeli group, the strip of land between
the Jordan and the sea was 60 percent Jewish and 40 percent Arab.
Hebrew University's Prof. Sergio della Pergola, one of Israel's leading
demographers, says that since last year the number of Jews and Arabs in
the region has equalized. According to the team's median forecast,
there will be 7.5 million Jews and 6.2 million Arabs between the
Mediterranean and the Jordan in 2025, which is to say, 55 percent Jews
and 45 percent Arabs - almost a tie. In other words, there may indeed
be a demographic problem, although Zimmerman's data show that it is
developing very slowly.
The president of the Palestinian
Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS), Louis Shabana, claims that the
number of Palestinians living in the PA will reach 5 million by 2015.
Zimmerman's team predicts only 4 million Palestinians in the West Bank
and Gaza in 2025. Demography is also a matter of geography, apparently.
Not just numbers
Zimmerman is not the only one
who has his doubts about the predictions of the Palestinian CBS (3.6
million in 2004). Della Pergola's estimate for the number of Arabs in
the PA is 3.3 million, and Prof. Arnon Sofer of the University of Haifa
is inclined to accept the Israel Defense Forces' figure of 3 million.
Ultimately, the debate is not just about numbers, but between those who
say that we are looking at a very serious and dangerous demographic
problem (Della Pergola and Sofer), and those who say our demographic
future looks more blue-and-white than ever (Zimmerman, his Israeli
partner Yoram Ettinger and their team of experts).
"If we lop
off a few hundred thousand people, the demographic 'tie' only gets
pushed off by a couple of years," says Della Pergola. "Does that change
This dispute has broad political implications, of
course, mainly for the question of whether the convergence plan is
necessary at all, or could be done without.
Zimmerman et al
have convinced us more with the questions they have raised than with
their facts and figures. Thanks to them, the Israeli public has learned
that the Palestinian figures are only a forecast. The Palestinian CBS
itself, with or without a connection to Zimmerman's report, has lowered
its estimate for 2004 from 3.8 million to 3.6 million; 200,000 people
gone with the click of the mouse.
The Zimmerman team had some
major criticisms of the Palestinian forecast. For example, the
fertility rate has sharply declined in the territories under PA
control, which means that the forecast is inflated by about 300,000
people. The Palestinian CBS also counts the 200,000 residents of East
Jerusalem and 150,000 Palestinians living outside East Jerusalem who
have received Israeli identity cards. Also, the Palestinians include in
their figures 325,000 people who have resettled abroad (the
Palestinians deny this). The calculations of their CBS are thus based
on an influx of 320,000 people into PA territory. In practice, however,
the immigration-emigration balance is negative.
The claim by
Zimmerman's team that fertility in the Arab sector in Israel has
radically declined is worth noting, especially in view of the fact that
it is entirely based on the data of the Palestinian CBS. The most
important figure in birthrate predictions is the total fertility rate
(TFR) - i.e., the number of children a woman is likely to bear in her
lifetime. The TFR for a Muslim woman, which was 4.74 in 2000, has been
steadily decreasing. In 2004, it was 4.36; a decline of 8 percent. The
TFR for a Jewish woman rose slightly in the same period, from 2.66 to
2.71. There were 92,000 Jewish births in Israel in 2000, and 100,000 in
2004 - an increase of 9 percent. The number of births in the Muslim
Arab sector was 36,000 in 2000, with no change in 2004. The rate of
births per 1,000 Jewish women rose from 18.7 in 2000 to 19.2 in 2004.
The rate of births per 1,000 Muslim women dropped in this period from
37.5 to 33.2 - a decline of 11 percent.
One of the widespread
criticisms against the Zimmerman team last year, especially on the part
of Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics, was that the group had made a
presentation rather than publishing research. What this meant in
academic terms was that its findings could not be taken seriously or
responded to in a proper fashion. A few months ago, the team published
an academic research paper under the aegis of Bar-Ilan University's
Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Research, downloadable from the
center's Internet site. A Hebrew translation of the paper will soon be
out. Now the findings can be discussed, challenged or rejected - but to
ignore them would be folly.