The Palestinian population of the West Bank and Gaza is four and a half to five million people, an IDF representative told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Monday. He was challenged by right-wing MKs.
Deputy head of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) Col. Uri Mendes said the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics reported a population of five million, which does not include Palestinians living in east Jerusalem, who are under Israeli jurisdiction.
However, Mendes said: “The Palestinian CBS has three million listed as residents of Judea and Samaria today. We estimate that there are actually 2.5 to 2.7 million Palestinians, because dead people are still registered, and because of emigration to countries around the world.
For example, a Palestinian born in Brazil, who lived there his whole life, can still register and receive a Palestinian passport.”
Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Avi Dichter said he had never heard such a high number before from the Palestinian Authority, and asked Mendes to give the panel an official document certifying it.
“This is a totally new figure, which is very significant and surprising,” he said. “If it’s accurate, it’s surprising and disconcerting. If it’s not accurate, then we want to know the accurate figure, of course.”
The Palestinian population is a central point in many Israeli arguments for a two-state solution. Those who seek to separate from the Palestinians often point to their numbers, saying that if there is one state, it will not be a Jewish one within a few generations, rather, it will have an Arab majority.
In that vein, Zionist Union MK Tzipi Livni wrote on Twitter: “If we do not wake up from the annexation delusions, we will lose the Jewish majority. It’s that simple.”
Former defense minister and Zionist Union MK Amir Peretz said, “Whether there are two or three million Palestinians in Judea and Samaria, it’s clear that at this rate Israel will not remain a Jewish state, and we are moving towards a one-state solution... Only separating into two states will ensure security and economic growth in a democratic state with a Jewish majority.”
Many on the Right, backed by research by demographer and former ambassador Yoram Ettinger, do not believe there is a demographic threat to Israel. They argue that Palestinian statisticians inflate the numbers by including residents of east Jerusalem because they do not recognize Israel’s presence there, as well as hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who moved abroad.
In addition, they point to contradictory numbers from the Palestinian CBS and birth records from the Palestinian Health Ministry.
Bayit Yehudi MK Moti Yogev said Mendes’s report is inaccurate.
“Unfortunately, COGAT is not fulfilling its responsibility to count and know how many Palestinians are in Judea and Samaria, or at least in Area C, which is under its authority, and it relies on the Palestinian Authority’s reports,” he said. “I call on the defense minister to order COGAT to...bring accurate numbers through a Palestinian census in Judea and Samaria and not allow an inaccurate reality in such an important demographic area.”
Yogev pointed to a Palestinian report that he discussed in the Subcommittee for Judea and Samaria, which he leads, that showed the PA does not report deaths, such that the population report shows ten times more births than deaths in the past decade, “a life expectancy that does not exist anywhere in the world.”
He also said there is a 20% gap between births and the number of students entering first grade.
In addition, Yogev argued, “the natural birth rate of the Jewish people in its land is greater than that of the Arab population around us.”
MK Ofer Shelah of Yesh Atid said right-wing arguments against the numbers presented to the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee are “outlandish.”
“We don’t need the Palestinian CBS. Read any Israeli expert, like Prof. Arnon Soffer: Everyone says that there is barely a Jewish majority between the Jordan River and the sea,” he said.
“Even if we take two million Gazans out of the equation, we get numbers that mean one thing: If we don’t separate from the Palestinians, Israel will not be able to be Jewish, if we annex Judea and Samaria, or democratic if we continue ruling over them without rights... We must separate or endanger the Zionist vision.”
Joint List chairman Ayman Odeh said “there is an equal number of Palestinians and Jews between the Jordan River and the sea,” and that is not new information.
“Therefore, the intersection at which we find ourselves now is clear: Either two states based on ’67 [lines], or one state that is an apartheid state, or one democratic state in which everyone has the right to vote,” Odeh said.
“There is no other option, and at least this simple truth must be said.”