Lies, damn lies and demographics: Are Jews now a minority between the river and the sea?

Israeli statisticians bemoan "inflated" Palestinian figures, which suggest Arabs outnumber Jews across Israel and the Palestinian territories.

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July 12, 2016 22:09
3 minute read.
damascus gate

Jewish youth gather outside Damascus gate on 'Jerusalem Day,' May 17, 2015.. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

New official statistics from the Palestinian Authority (PA) suggest that Jews are a shrinking minority between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, however Israeli statisticians firmly disagree.


The Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics on Tuesday reported that there are approximately 4.81 million Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza, with 2.93 million in the West Bank and 1.88 million in the increasingly densely populated Gaza Strip.


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According to their calculations, when taking into account the Israeli Arab population, which the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics (ICBS) estimated to be around 1.77 million in May 2016, the total number of Arabs across Israel and the Palestinian territories reaches 6.58 million.


According to the ICBS, the Jewish population stands at 6.34 million, and despite falling birth rates among Arabs across the West Bank, Gaza and Israel, the statistics also seem to suggest that the overall gap is only growing.


The issue of demographics acts as motivator for supporters of varied political solutions to the conflict. While many on both sides cite the demographic trends as a justification for a two-state-solution, others mitigate the divides differently. These include some right-wing Israelis, who support a partial annexation of Jewish majority areas in the West Bank, but no full independence for the Palestinians who remain outside. Others yet call for a fedaralized, European style state for both peoples.


A minority opinion, however, has long called for one state, between the river and the sea, for Jews and Arabs alike. Within Israel, this view can be found among the unlikely agreement of some far-right Jews, who often preach for "incentives" for emigrating Arabs, and post-Zionists.


With the new statistics, it would appear that a democratic "one state" would have a minority of Jews. Despite the IDF agreeing with the Palestinian population statistics, at least with regards to the West Bank, an Israeli statistician and his group of researchers strongly disagrees.


Retired Ambassador Yoram Ettinger, who has been following Palestinian demographics since 1997, told The Jerusalem Post that in fact the PA is using a number of statistical tricks in order to inflate the figure by around 1.5 million across the West Bank and Gaza, and that the Palestinian birth rate is significantly lower than what is being reported.


"The statistics published by the PA since their first census in 1997 have repeatedly and systematically included huge populations which are not supposed to be included," Ettinger said.


According to his team's research, the Palestinians are double-counting citizens who live in east Jerusalem or move to Israel to join their families, ignore the hundreds of thousands of citizens who have left the West Bank and Gaza, and hugely overestimate the birth rate "by between 20 to 60 thousand annually in the West Bank alone," Ettinger said.


Reacting to the report, Yehuda Glick (Likud), who supports a one-state solution, told the Post: "The Palestinian Authority is unable to convince even their own population in their incitement against Israel, so now they are recruiting the imagination of the world to try to create a virtual reality."


Coming from a different angle, Palestinian-American businessman and political commentator Sam Bahour, who has written that he does not presently support a one-state solution, or using it as a threat in order to gain leverage over Israel, told the Post that both sides need to see beyond demographics entirely.


"I don't calculate the future of the region in terms of demographics, because that would lead to a never ending game of ethnic cleansing. Regardless of the number of Jews, or others, equality and rights must drive policies on both sides of the Green Line if we are serious about a future for our children worth living for," he said.

Lahav Harkov contributed to this report.


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