has always been a driving force in the 120-year-old Arab-Jewish
conflict. Indeed, modern Zionism’s dream of restoring the Jewish nation
to its ancestral homeland seemed feasible in part because the region
was then so sparsely populated. When modern aliya, or Jewish immigration, began
in 1880, fewer than 500,000 people lived in the corner of the Ottoman
Empire that would become the Palestine Mandate. And while the mix of
ethnic groups collectively referred to as Arabs, or “Orientals,” formed
the bulk of the Mandate’s population at the time, Jews were already the
majority in Jerusalem. With the founding of the State of Israel in 1948
and the waves of immigration that followed, Jews indeed quickly became
the majority between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.
however, many believe that the demographic pendulum is swinging the
other way. A “demographic time bomb” is ticking, it is said, in which
Arabs will soon outnumber Jews in the areas under Israel’s control.
Indeed, when the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) reported 2004 population
of 3.83 million is added to the 1.3 million Israeli Arabs, the new
total-5.1 million Arabs-rapidly approaches parity with Israel’s 5.5
million Jews. This number, coupled with PA claims to the world’s
highest growth rate and a high Israeli Arab birthrate, as well, has led
to the widely held conviction that the Jews will soon become a minority
west of the Jordan River-and that the idea of a Jewish state with an
enduring Jewish majority will be severely undermined.
perception of the region’s demographic situation has had a profound
effect on recent Arab and Israeli strategies vis-à-vis the
determination of Israel’s final borders. Historically, it has been in
the minority’s interest to accept the partition of territory, while the
majority lays claim to the entire land. Accordingly, the Jewish
minority during the Mandate period acquiesced to the excision of
three-fourths of the Mandate to create the Hashemite Kingdom of
Transjordan in 1922, and, after the Arabs had persuaded the British to
limit Jewish immigration to restricted areas in the remainder of
Palestine, agreed to the 1937 and 1947 partition proposals. In
contrast, the Mandate’s Arab majority all along demanded a one-state
solution. Only in 1988, after the Arabs had become the clear regional
minority, did the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) leadership
finally acquiesce, at least provisionally, to a two-state solution.
the existential threat posed to the State of Israel by the specter of
an Arab majority has resulted in a decisive policy shift on the part of
the Jews. Portraying the high growth forecasts for the Palestinian and
Israeli Arab populations as an inexorable force of nature poised to
engulf Israel and doom the Zionist enterprise, then-Deputy Prime
Minister Ehud Olmert warned in 2003 that “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.”1
Also in 2003, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon told the Likud Central
Committee, “The idea that it is possible to continue keeping 3.5
million Palestinians under occupation… is bad for Israel, and bad for
the Palestinians, and bad for the Israeli economy.”2
Today, while both Prime Minister Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi
Livni maintain that Israel has historic and security rights to the West
Bank, they are nonetheless committed to further unilateral
disengagement, couching their argument less in terms of Palestinian
rights than basing it on demographic grounds.
their part, the Palestinians have consistently seen the demographic
time bomb as a weapon guaranteeing Palestinian victory in the
century-long struggle with the Jews. Alongside the claim of Palestinian
rights, it is the belief in the eventual Arab demographic dominance
that has continued to sustain the Palestinian will to fight at a time
when much of the Arab world has reconciled itself to Israel’s
existence. “The womb of the Palestinian woman,” Yasser Arafat was fond
of saying, “will defeat the Zionists.”
deep-rooted assumptions about a demographic time bomb, however, are
wrong. A careful review of the data behind these forecasts reveals that
Israel does not, in fact, face an imminent demographic threat from any
combination of Arab population groups. Rather, the source of much of
Israel’s anxiety may be traced to inaccurate numbers issued by the
Palestinian Authority and taken for granted by the rest of the
world-numbers that paint a very different picture.
In The Million Person Gap: The Arab Population in the West Bank and Gaza,
we undertook an exhaustive investigation of the sourcing and
methodology of the PA’s numbers as compared to other records issued by
Palestinian and Israeli agencies.3
These records, when carefully corroborated against each other, suggest
that the mid-year 2004 population in Gaza and the West Bank was 2.49
million, and not, as reported by the PA, 3.83 million. This gap of 1.34
million persons-an artificial inflation of more than 50 percent-can be
traced to the Palestine Central Bureau of Statistics (pcbs),
which conducted its only census in 1997, and has since used those
results to develop a forecast for each year from 1998 to 2015. It is,
in fact, these predictions
that the PA has released each year as its population size, although
they have never been adjusted to account for actual, changing
How is this possible? The million-person gap stems from two major flaws in accounting: First, in the pcbs’s method of establishing the Palestinian Arab population base when it first began counting the population; and second, the pcbs’s
method of predicting birth, emigration, and immigration rates among the
relevant Arab groups, on the basis of which the current data was
determined. These errors began when, as part of the implementation of
the 1993 Oslo accords, responsibility for tracking demographics was
transferred from the Israel Central Bureau of Statistics (icbs) to the pcbs. In 1997, the pcbs
reported an astonishing 648,000-person increase in the Arab Palestinian
population-about 30 percent-over the number reported internally by the icbs the previous year.4 How did the pcbs find so many new people? The answer is simple, and telling. First, the pcbs
counted the 210,000 Jerusalem Arab residents that were already counted
in Israel’s population surveys. Although the Palestinian Authority
seeks to incorporate Jerusalem’s residents into its future state, in
fact they are living within the city limits of Jerusalem, under Israeli
civilian rule, and rely heavily on Israeli infrastructure and
government services; more importantly, the Oslo accords left the icbs, not the pcbs, in charge of counting the Jerusalem Arabs.
Second, the pcbs, by its own admission, included at least 325,000 Palestinians, fully 13 percent of the pcbs
total, who were living outside of the PA. Although the agency claimed
it was performing a de facto census (defined by demographers as
counting only people physically present), it made an exception for
non-residents who had received identification cards during Israel’s
Civil Administration, regardless of how long they had been absent.
(Israel, by comparison, removes people from its population counts after
they have been abroad for a year.) The inclusion of non-residents with
identification cards is not an uncommon practice for Palestinian
agencies: The Palestine Central Election Commission (CEC), for example,
noted in 2004 that 13 percent of its base of eligible voters lived
abroad.5 Thus, by double-counting the Jerusalem Arabs and including Palestinian Arabs living abroad in their total, the pcbs managed to add 535,000 people to their population total.
When the twice-counted Jerusalem Arabs and those residents living abroad are subtracted from the pcbs population base, it turns out that there are only 113,000 more Arabs than documented by the icbs.
This new disparity bodes far better: Considering the contentious nature
of demographics, such a small difference between the Israeli and
Palestinian counts underscores that the disparities between the two
counts were the result of changes in definition, not changes in actual
numbers of people. The lower icbs
figure was further corroborated by Palestinian voting records:
According to the CEC, there were 1.3 million adults physically living
in the territories and eligible to vote in 2004 and 2005. That figure
exactly matches the icbs
age grouping predictions, which indicated that there would be 1.3
million residents over the age of 18 and eligible to vote in 2004, as
opposed to the 1.85 million predicted in the pcbs forecast. Thus when
projecting Palestinian population figures for 2004-the last year for
which official data has been released-the pcbs began with a significantly inflated base number for 1997.
then took its artificially inflated population base and predicted that
it would grow at an average of 4.75 percent per year from 1997 to
2004-the highest rate in the world-as a result of high birth rates and
massive immigration. Yet official data from Palestinian and Israeli
agencies has since revealed that these pcbs birth and immigration expectations were not met for even one year between 1997 and 2004.
first explanation for the lesser growth rate is the lower observed rate
of natural increase-that is, births minus deaths. From 1997 through the
end of 2003, there were 308,000 fewer births than the pcbs
had predicted, according to the PA Ministry of Health (MOH), which kept
detailed birth records by district, hospital, and type of delivery.6 PA Ministry of Education records on the number of children entering first grade corroborate the MOH’s lower figures.7 With regard to deaths, the numbers are also lower, with the pcbs projections of deaths from 1997 to 2003 exceeding MOH statistics by some 32,000. The pcbs
birth and death rate predictions were not significantly off, but when
they were applied to a large number of individuals not living in the
West Bank and Gaza, they caused the pcbs
forecast to significantly overstate births and deaths. In the area of
natural population growth, therefore, the Palestinian projections were
artificially inflated by some 276,000.
The second explanation has to do with the movement of Palestinians into and out of the territories. The pcbs
predicted that a net 236,000 Palestinians would move into the
territories from abroad between 1997 and 2003, when in reality Israeli
border police records show that a net 74,000 moved out-yielding
a net error of 310,000 people. In addition, according to an Israeli
Ministry of the Interior report, in the same period 105,000
Palestinians moved to pre-1967 Israel from the territories under family
reunification programs-Palestinians whom the pcbs
continued to count, but who were now being counted as Israeli Arabs as
well-bringing the total inflation of Palestinian figures as a result of
faulty accounting of immigration and emigration to 415,000 people. It
is a fact that Palestinian Arab emigration is one of the most important
untold stories behind the conflict, playing as it does a critical role
in reducing the Palestinian growth rate. For instead of a large number
of Palestinians moving into the territories as the pcbs
anticipated, a much larger number of Palestinians fled to neighboring
countries and to democracies such as Australia, Europe, the United
States, Canada, and their destination of first choice, Israel. Over
100,000 have entered Israel legally-plus an uncertain but substantial
number who entered Israel illegally and are not counted in any of the
data in question. One reason for this Palestinian exodus is the uprising that
erupted in the fall of 2000: Since then, many concerned Arab parents
have sent their children out of the country to escape the influence of
a society that encourages its young to volunteer for suicide missions.
Many of these parents, moreover, were not certain their children would
return, or indeed, whether they would join them abroad.8
This phenomenon, as Palestinian human rights activist Bassem Eid
observed in 2001, was a “well-kept secret”: Journalists were forbidden
to report on it, since the PA believed it would be “detrimental to the
sum: By double-counting the Jerusalem Arabs and counting Arabs living
abroad, the Palestinians inflated their base data for 1997 by 648,000.
By predicting unrealistically high rates of natural population growth,
the number was inflated by an additional 276,000; and by falsely
predicting massive immigration to Gaza and the West Bank, and ignoring
the significant net emigration of Palestinians from the territories,
the pcbs further inflated the numbers by another 415,000. If we add these figures together, by 2004 the pcbs
figures had managed to inflate the population in the West Bank and Gaza
by some 1.34 million people-more than 50 percent. When the pcbs’
numerous errors are corrected, the Palestinian Arab population for Gaza
and the West Bank drops to 2.49 million people, with 1.42 million in
the West Bank and 1.07 million in Gaza in mid-2004.
should emphasize that these corrected figures are not simply based on
alternate, and in our view superior, demographic assumptions; they are
based on the Palestinian authority’s own government records from
ministries outside the pcbs, such as the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Education, agencies that tracked actual demographic activity since 1997. The
figures cited here should thus be considered far more reliable in all
discussions of Palestinian demography-decisively so. The pcbs
predictions of 4.4 and 4.9 percent growth rates for the West Bank and
Gaza, respectively, are also dramatic overstatements in comparison to
the observed rates of 1.8 and 2.9 percent.
the question of the Palestinian population living in the West Bank and
Gaza, however, there is a no-less-important question of the number of
Arabs living within pre-1967 Israel. Many Israeli Arabs identify as
Palestinians; and it is the combined total of Arabs living on both
sides of the pre-1967 border that forms the basis for the “demographic
time bomb” theory. Here too, however, we discover a number of
fundamental errors in describing the growth rate of this population,
and where it stands in comparison to that of the Jewish population.
the years 1997-2003, while the overall Jewish growth rate (including
both natural growth and net immigration) was 2.1 percent per year, the
Israeli Arab growth rate was significantly higher, at 3.3 percent-the
highest for any group in the present study-partly a result of
immigration from the West Bank and Gaza. Indeed, the Israeli Arab
population grew from 10.5 percent of the regional total in 1967 to 14
percent by 2004, which is the main cause of the Jewish majority’s
falling during that time from 64 percent to 59 percent. Yet even these
numbers are subject to manipulation: Some demographers, for example,
have artificially lowered Israeli Jewish figures even further by
removing some 300,000 immigrants from the former Soviet Union who are
not halachically recognized as Jewish from the “Jews and Others”
category, despite the fact that many of them identify with Jews and
Israel, have Jewish familial links, or consider themselves Jewish.10 (The icbs,
by contrast, places them in the “Jews and Others” category, and
reserves the “Arabs and Others” category for groups such as the Druze,
who are of similar ethnic and geographical origin to their Arab Muslim
It is clear that Israel has become more demographically complex and
multicultural, but not necessarily more Palestinian Arab. The
demographic results from the Territories were mixed: While Gaza’s ratio
increased from 9.5 percent in 1967 to 11.5 percent by 2004, the West
Bank’s share fell from 16 to 15 percent.
Taken together with the corrected Palestinian figures for the West Bank and Gaza Strip, it emerges that while both Arab and Jewish
population groups have grown markedly during the past four decades,
their relative ratios have not changed all that dramatically. In fact,
Jews remain in a fairly strong majority position: In the combined
territories of Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza, the ratio of Jews to
Arabs is 3 to 2. If we discount the Gaza Strip-which is no longer under
any kind of Israeli rule, and therefore is of questionable relevance
when speaking of a demographic threat-then the proportion is 2 to 1.
And in pre-1967 Israel including Jerusalem, the ratio is 4 to 1.
many demographers and commentators are inclined to downplay the
significance of these corrected figures, saying that they merely delay
the date when Arabs will outnumber Jews, this is often the product of
habituated thinking rather than a hard look at the numbers. They argue
that as the disproportionately young Arab population reaches
childbearing age, its demographic momentum will propel it to majority
status. But that scenario, too, is somewhat far-fetched, particularly
as the demographic outlook for Israeli Jews has begun to improve.
Indeed, while the number of children a woman is likely to bear over her
lifetime (known as the Total Fertility Rate, or TFR) has been steadily
rising in the Jewish sector, it has been dropping among the Arabs.
Between 2000 and 2005, the Jewish TFR gradually increased to 2.7-the
highest rate in any advanced industrialized nation-and the number of
Jewish births grew from 80,000 per year in 1995 to 96,000 in 2000 to
more than 104,000 by 2004.12
contrast, Arab fertility rates have been declining. Within Israel, the
overall fertility figure for the Arab grouping (including Muslims,
Christians, and Druze) declined from 4.4 in 2000 to 4.0 in 2004.
Meanwhile, the number of total births, which has increased among the
Jews, has been stabilizing among Israel’s Arabs: While births among
Israeli Arabs grew from 36,500 in 1995 to 41,200 in 2000, they have
leveled off over the past five years. In fact, the absolute number of
Israeli Arab births fell for the first time in 2004, possibly the
result of new government policies affecting high-fertility sectors of
the Israeli population, notably the reduction of child allowances.13
And in the West Bank and Gaza Strip as well, there has been a similar
lack of momentum in Arab births. In the West Bank the fertility rate
has dropped from 5.7 in 1999 to 5.0 in 2003, and in the Gaza Strip from
6.6 to 5.7, respectively.14
of the pitfalls of predicting population sizes is that demographers
often apply yesterday’s or today’s fertility rates to tomorrow’s
forecast. By assuming Israeli Arab fertility rates from the 1960s
(which averaged between 9 and 10 births per woman), Israeli
demographers projected that Israeli Arabs would overtake Israeli Jews
before 1990. When the Israeli Arab fertility rate dropped to 5.4 in the
early 1980s and to 4.7 in the second half of that decade, demographers
applied the new rate to their next series of forecasts. However, by
2005, the Israeli Arab rate had dropped even further, to 4.0,
reflecting the progressive economic development in the Arab sector, and
echoing the more dramatic drops reported throughout the Middle East. To
date, however, Israeli demographers have not readjusted their forecasts
in light of changes in fertility level. This consideration-the
forward-reaching effects of changing cultural attitudes or economic
conditions-is vital to any demographic forecast.
to the demographic pessimism, moreover, most forecasters have dismissed
the possibility of significant future Jewish immigration. In this, they
repeat the errors of the 1980s, when a leading Israeli demographer
maintained that Soviet Jews would never come to Israel in significant
numbers-just one decade before almost one million did.15
After all, the American Jewish community-the largest outside Israel-has
a burgeoning Orthodox sector that is deepening its ties with Israel and
has markedly increased its rate of immigration to Israel, in part as a
result of improved economic conditions in Israel.
Furthermore, rising hostility toward Jews in Western Europe is fueling
immigration to Israel, as well, especially among French Jews, for whom
the desire to move to Israel has never been more acute. Finally, among
those consistently excluded from Israel’s census are hundreds of
thousands of Israelis who live abroad, many of whom possess a powerful
loyalty to Israel and end up returning when economic times improve. For
instance, when Israel’s economy resumed its high annual growth in 2003,
the rate of returning Israelis jumped 20 percent in 2004 and 50 percent
What, then, does a more factual approach to demographic trends portend for Israel’s demographic security?
In a further study undertaken by the authors, Forecast for Israel and West Bank 2025,
we used corrected population data for the West Bank to update the
forecasts provided for both Israeli Arabs and Jews recently released by
the icbs for 2000-2025.17
It is important to take note of a methodological shift we undertook in
considering forecasts into the distant future. For the purposes of
calculating the past and current populations of the region, it was
important to expose the faulty demographic figures widely cited with
regard to the entire region-Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza. Yet it is
still the case that Israel has withdrawn from the Gaza Strip, rendering
its population figures of questionable relevance when considering the
“demographic time bomb” theory. After all, if Israel no longer rules
over Gaza, and has no intention of ever ruling over it again, then the
very inclusion of Gaza’s population into the “demographic question” is
itself an act of distortion: Whether Israeli democracy is compromised
by the prospect of a minority ruling over an Arab majority, for
example, only matters in the area in which Israel is ruling today or
may be ruling tomorrow. And whereas the political arrangements which
will govern the West Bank in the long run are still very much an open
question, it seems that those regarding the Gaza Strip are not, at
least as far as Israel is concerned. Thus, the entire “demographic time
bomb” theory must be re-examined in light of the respective long-term
demographic prognosis for Israel and the West Bank, to the exclusion of
Gaza. More significantly, with no reliable border data available since
Israel transferred the Rafah border crossing to the Palestinians, a
Gaza forecast based on recent demographic events would lose relevance
against any, even dramatic, changes in population that might accompany
recent political changes.
study used corrected population and growth figures for Israel and the
West Bank, and postulated a range of scenarios of possible growth in
all the respective population groups. In the mid-growth scenario
developed in the study, Israeli Jews maintain the current fertility
rate of 2.7, and net immigration (aliya plus returning Israelis, minus Israelis who leave) stays at its recent 2001-2004 average of a net 20,000 per year.18
Likewise, Israeli Arab fertility rates continue their downward trend
from the current 4.0 to 3.0 by 2025. Even if we use United Nations
data, which show fertility rates above those issued by the pcbs, the fertility rates of Palestinian Arabs in the West Bank still fall gradually from 5.4 to 3.24.19
Within these parameters, in 2025 the Jewish population would form a 63
percent majority in Israel and the West Bank-down slightly from the
current level of 67 percent. Moreover, in a scenario adjusted for
greater Jewish immigration and fertility rates boosted by rising
Orthodox birthrates, the proportion of Jews would instead grow
to a 71 percent majority of the total population. This situation is
hardly unfeasible: Jewish fertility rates over the past five years are
now above the highest level predicted by the icbs, while the Israeli Arab sector is approaching the lowest fertility levels of the icbs forecast.
The only possible challenge to the Jewish position, barring unforeseen
events, would be from large-scale Arab immigration into a provisional
West Bank Palestinian state from the Gaza Strip or abroad.
is true that Israel has always depended on some level of immigration to
maintain or improve its demographic position in relation to the Arab
population, a dependency that will likely continue. Without
immigration, long-term demographic stability will require a convergence
of birthrates between the Jewish and Arab population groups. In this
regard, it is instructive to note the different fertility rates of
Israel’s various Arab subgroups. Among Christian Arabs, fertility rates
have fallen to 2.1, barely replacement level. The Druze, who once
boasted high fertility rates, are now holding steady at 2.66, just
below the current Israeli Jewish fertility rate of 2.7. The reason for
this drop is likely linked to the modernization of the Druze community
and its integration into Israeli society, including its participation
in Israel’s military and increased educational opportunities for women,
which in turn led to delayed marriage and fewer childbearing years.
Today in Israel it is widely advocated that in the interests of
equality, Israel should adopt similar policies for the Muslim sector,
including national service and enhanced educational opportunities for
both men and women. If these were adopted, their high but declining
fertility rates might decline even further, and eventually approach
conclusions from all this seem overwhelmingly clear: The Arab
demographic time bomb is, in many crucial respects, a dud. It is the
product of a dramatically inflated account of the actual number of
Palestinians living in the territories, combined with obsolete
assumptions about future growth. The question must now be asked: Why is
it that Israel has relied on PA population projections as starting
assumptions in envisioning the future contours of the Jewish state? And
why have these statistical errors gone unnoticed? The official answer
is that when Israel turned over administration of the territories to
the new PA agencies in 1994 and 1995, no Israeli agency was charged
with monitoring the accuracy of the pcbs figures. Recently, when the Knesset’s Operations Committee summoned members of the icbs for three inquiry hearings devoted to this question, the icbs
maintained that monitoring the Arab population in the West Bank and
Gaza was beyond its jurisdiction, both for budgetary reasons and
because the Oslo accords explicitly barred Israeli agencies from doing
so. Furthermore, the original divergence between pcbs and icbs
numbers occurred in 1997, when the political process between Israel and
the PA was proceeding smoothly and there was little interest in
questioning the figures.
some cases, simple negligence contributed to reports about a dwindling
Jewish ratio. Though it is generally known that both Israeli and PA
surveys include Jerusalem’s Arabs, many international and government
agencies, including, for example, the U.S. State Department and the
CIA, simply add the two surveys together to get their totals, thus
double-counting the 220,000 Jerusalem Arabs. Yet an additional reason,
it seems, relates to the intense politicization of the subject in
Israel and the PA, and the way that Israelis have come to assume the
inevitability of Arab demographic dominance. Prominent Israeli
academics who addressed demography were committed to the separation of
Jewish and Arab populations, and their policy recommendations were
inseparable from their “demographic time bomb” warnings. Arnon Soffer’s
widely distributed Israel Demography 2004-2020: In Light of the Process of Disengagement,20 for example, accepted pcbs
population claims for the West Bank and Gaza, exaggerated Jerusalem
Arabs by nearly double, removed religiously unclassified Soviet
immigrants from the icbs “Jews and Other” category, included foreign workers in the “Arabs and Other” category (not included by the icbs in Israel’s population), and included illegal immigrants to Israel from the PA without removing the same persons from the pcbs count, thereby arriving at a Jewish minority west of the Jordan River.
Moreover, the pcbs
numbers continue to be widely cited by national and international
organizations, lending them further credibility. International aid to
the territories, for example, is based in part on PA population
figures. On March 15, 2006, pleading for continued American aid to
Palestinians, U.S. Quartet representative James Wolfensohn told the
Senate Foreign Relations Committee there was a humanitarian crisis
developing for 4 to 4.5 million Palestinians in the territories.21
Surprisingly, no senators questioned his numbers or their provenance,
although his casual reference was higher than even those claims made by
or Israeli demographers. There are signs that this automatic acceptance
of inflated figures may well be on the wane, however: Since the Oslo
accords, the U.S. has granted the Palestinians $1.5 billion, most of
which has gone not to the PA, but rather to humanitarian programs whose
budgets are often calculated on a per capita basis. While it is
difficult to backtrack on a decade of aid calculations, in the wake of
Hamas’ recent victory in the Palestinian parliamentary elections,
various government agencies are reassessing aid programs to the
Palestinians. The Middle East and Central Asia Subcommittee of the
House International Relations Committee, for example, chaired by Rep.
Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, invited the authors of this article to
present evidence of the inflated population figures issued by the PA.
As a result, the U.S. and other donors may decide to recalibrate their
support, given the significantly smaller number of people in the
the deeper answer to why the incorrect figures were unquestioningly
accepted may lie in history itself: For more than a century, Jews have
been locked in a demographic battle with Arabs. As such, many are
predisposed to believe the worst-case scenarios-and a chorus of
scholars ready to confirm their worst fears is always waiting in the
the Jews of Israel face a demographic threat? The answer is still a
qualified yes-but the threat has been greatly exaggerated. As the real
numbers make clear, Arab population growth is not an overwhelming force
that is destined, sooner or later, to relegate the Jews to minority
status. On the contrary: With a greater understanding of demography and
the specific forces that drive it, Israeli policymakers can develop a
range of choices to affect the long-term demographic trends in the
region-from the encouragement of Jewish immigration to the fostering of
economic and social equality between Israel’s Jewish and Arab citizens.
More important, Israel must realize that it has time, demographically
speaking, to evaluate these choices, and to make the right decisions.
is clear, however, is that the corrected data neutralizes a major
psychological weapon in the Arab-Jewish propaganda war. Palestinians
have wielded their supposed demographic strength to threaten Israel and
inspire confidence in the inevitability of victory; but the Jews, it
must now be declared openly, are not
a vulnerable majority whose foothold in the land is weak. On the
contrary, the Jews remain a clear-cut majority with robust demographic
features. This moment in Israel’s history is, therefore, a pivotal one:
It must undertake the kind of bold new thinking that will ensure that
the Jewish state remains a reality, even as the rights and welfare of
Palestinian and Israeli Arabs are addressed. And this can begin only
with good, reliable data.
Bennett Zimmerman, Roberta Seid, and Michael L. Wise are the authors of The Arab Population in the West Bank and Gaza: The Million Person Gap, recently published by the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies in Israel. Population Forecast for Israel and West Bank 2025 debuted in Israel at the Herzliya Conference and in the United States at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington D.C.
1. Nahum Barnea, “Olmert Calls for Unilateral Disengagement from Majority of Territories,” Yediot Aharonot, December 5, 2003.
2. Bradley Burston, “The Fight of Sharon’s Life: His Place in History,” Haaretz, May 27, 2003.
Bennett Zimmerman, Roberta Seid, and Michael L. Wise, “The Million
Person Gap: The Arab Population in the West Bank and Gaza,” Mideast Security and Policy Studies 65 (February 2006), www.biu.ac.il/Besa/MSPS65.pdf.
4. Zimmerman, Seid, and Wise, “The Million Person Gap,” pp. 12-13.
Zimmerman, Seid, and Wise, “The Million Person Gap,” pp. 14-15;
Palestine Central Election Commission, “Central Election Commission
Registers Over 67% of Eligible Voters,” press release, October 14, 2004.
6. Palestine Central Bureau of Statistics (pcbs),
“Demographic Indicators of the Palestinian Territory, 1997-2015”; PA
Ministry of Health, “Health Status in Palestine,” Annual Reports
7. PA Ministry of Education and Higher Education, Statistics About General Education in Palestine, 2003-2004 and 2004-2005 reports, www.mohe.gov.ps; Zimmerman, Seid, and Wise, “The Million Person Gap,” pp. 20-21.
8. Inigo Gilmore, “Hebron’s Middle Classes Choose America Rather than Martyrdom,” Telegraph News, September 5, 2004.
9. Uriah Shavit and Jalal Bana, “The Secret Exodus: Palestinian Emigration,” Haaretz, magazine section, October 5, 2001.
10. Arnon Soffer and Evgenia Bystrov, Israel Demography 2004-2020: In Light of the Process of Disengagement (Haifa: Reuven Chaikin Chair in Geostrategy, 2005).
But here, too, the argument can be made that since Israeli Druze do not
identify with the Palestinian national identity, serve in the IDF, and
generally support their country and its institutions, it might be
misleading to include them in Israeli Arab or Palestinian figures.
12. Israel Central Bureau of Statistics (icbs), Statistical Abstract of Israel 2005, 56 (Jerusalem: Central Bureau of Statistics, 2005), pp. 140-141.
13. icbs, Statistical Abstract,
p. 140; “Changes in Amount of Child Allowances,” National Insurance
Institute of Israel, January 8, 2005,
www.btl.gov.il/English/whats_new/children_1_05.htm. This change in
policy coincided with an immediate drop in pregnancies, for example,
among Bedouin families.
Zimmerman, Seid, and Wise, “The Million Person Gap,” pp. 12-13.
Fertility rates were calculated for each year from 1997 through 2003 on
the basis of births recorded by the PA Ministry of Health, “Health
Status in Palestine: Annual reports,” and a residents-only population
base for the West Bank and Gaza.
15. Charley J. Levine, “Interview: Sergio DellaPergola,” Hadassah Magazine
87 (June/July 2006),
DellaPergola stated, “Very few forecasters saw the influx of one
million Russian Jews even a few years before it started to happen in
16. Ruth Eglash, “Persuading Israelis Abroad to Come Back Home,” Jerusalem Post, March 23, 2006. Article cites figures released by the Israel Ministry of Immigrant Absorption for 2003, 2004, and 2005.
“Population Forecast for Israel and West Bank 2025,” Presentation at
the Sixth Herzliya Conference, Bennett Zimmerman, Roberta Seid, and
Michael L. Wise, January 23, 2006,
www.pademographics.com/Forecast%20for%20Israel%202025.ppt; icbs, “Projections of Population in Israel for 2010-2025,” Statistical Abstract, pp. 105-109; icbs, Ahmad Hleihel, “Demographic Trends in Israel,” Presentation at the Technion - Israel Institute of Technology, June 8, 2005.
18. Net immigration was 86,200 from 2001 to 2004, icbs, Statistical Abstract, Table 2.2, p. 31.
19. “Fertility and Mortality Assumptions,” United Nations World Population Prospects: The 2004 Revision. Fertility figures correspond to pcbs reference noted in note 101 of our besa report. Slide no. 5.
20. Soffer and Bystrov, Israel Demography 2004-2020, pp. 12-17.
22. wwwa.house.gov/international_ relations/109/zim030806.pdf.