|Vol. 4, No. 19
Who Has a Majority in the Land of Israel?
The basis for most of the population statistics for the West Bank and Gaza are currently numbers that come from the Palestinian Authority’s Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS). In December 1997 the PA announced the results of a census in which they set the population in the territories at 2.9 million people, including eastern Jerusalem. At the same time, the PA issued a chart which projected a population growth of 4-5 percent a year, which in 2004 would give them a total of 3.83 million. Analysts then took that 3.8 million figure, added the 1.3 million Israeli Arabs, and concluded that we have reached a point of population parity between Jews and Arabs in the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. It was also observed that with such a high Arab growth rate, Jews would soon become a minority in the land.
The American Research Initiative team decided to examine the published population figures of the PCBS from a number of perspectives, and concluded that both the base figure and the population growth rates issued by the PCBS were dramatically different from our actual measurements. A 1.4 million gap emerged, with our research indicating that the PA population is closer to 2.4 million than to the 3.8 million figure reported by the PCBS. These numbers indicate that the Jewish population between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea stands at 60 percent Jewish to 40 percent Arab, similar to the ratio that existed in 1967.
There are four main sources for Palestinian statistics: the PCBS, which conducted the census and reports the population projection; the Palestinian Ministry of Health (MOH), which reports every year on births and deaths, by district; the Palestinian Ministry of Education, which reports on the number of children entering first grade; and the Central Election Commission, offering data from the parliamentary elections of 1996 and from the recent municipal and presidential elections in the Palestinian Authority, which contained a wealth of information about the number of adults eligible to vote in those elections.
Israel also collected statistics on the West Bank and Gaza during the period when the civil administration was in existence there and the last figures were published in 1996. There is also Israeli data on border crossings.
Counting Actual Births, Deaths, and Exits, Instead of Using Projections
Instead of looking at a demographic projection, our methodology was to go back every year to 1990 and find the actual number of births, deaths, who entered and left the country, and add up the number. Then we sought to corroborate those numbers with the most recent data available from the Palestinian Authority.
In 1997, the PA projected that births in the territories would now be at a level of over 140,000 per year. Yet the PA Ministry of Health has reported birth rates at a level significantly below those projected. In addition, Palestinian data showed a dramatic decline in the natural growth rate (birth minus deaths) in the Palestinian territories until 2002, when the rate went back up.
Furthermore, the Palestinian statistics were out of sync with the Arab growth rate in Jordan and other Arab countries. It was the only society in the world reporting a high life expectancy at the same time as an astronomically high birth rate.
Because the Palestinian birth rate started to decline, in order to maintain the 4-5 percent growth assumption, the PA said, starting in 1997, that once the year 2001 comes, the success of the Oslo process will mean 50,000 immigrants a year streaming into the territories. Now according to the border data, since 1994 there has been a net emigration of 10,000-20,000 people per year leaving the land. If 50,000 were expected to arrive and instead 10,000 are leaving, this factor alone would account for an exaggeration of 60,000 a year in the PA’s population forecasts.
Israel’s last public statistic for the Palestinian population in the West Bank and Gaza was 2.1 million. The Palestinian Ministry of Health’s number in December 1996 was 2.27 million, a difference of only 150,000 from Israel’s figure. Then, with the release of the data in mid-1998 for the December 1997 census, the PA claimed a population of 2.895 million – a huge jump. Part of this increase is definitional and includes the population of eastern Jerusalem.
Including Overseas Palestinians in the Count
There is more than one way to count population. There is the de facto population of those who actually live in the territories, and the de jure or legal population, those who have ID with the right to come back but might not be in the territories at the time. In its census, the Palestinian Authority said it was reporting the de facto number and also including Palestinians who have lived abroad for more than one year. Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics does not count as part of the country’s population those who leave the country and have not returned after one year. However, the Palestinians counted those who had been abroad for five or ten years.
The Palestinian census resulted in a 300,000 jump – which corresponds to the World Bank’s report in September 1993 that some 300,000-350,000 Palestinians with Israeli-issued IDs were living abroad. Furthermore, in October 2004 the Palestinian Central Election Commission said that 200,000 adults – which translates into approximately 400,000 people or 13 percent of the Palestinian Arab population – were living abroad, again confirming that very gap. The Commission also reported that the number of eligible voters over the age of 18 who were living in the territories was only 1.3 million, not the 1.85 million predicted and still claimed by the PCBS.
Explaining the 1.4 Million Gap
The American Research Initiative calculated a population of 1.35 million in the West Bank and 1.07 million in Gaza for a total of 2.42 million in the territories at the beginning of 2004 by correcting the following errors:
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Jews Total 51 Percent in the Land of Israel; Arabs Have Demographic Momentum
Between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River the estimated population includes about 5.2 million Jews and another 300,000 non-Jews who are immigrants under the Law of Return and sociologically quite integrated within the mainstream of Israeli society. There are also more than 1,300,000 Arabs who are a part of the State of Israel within the “green line.” I estimate there are another 3.4 million Palestinians in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza, bringing the Arab total to 4.7 million, out of a total population between the sea and the river of 10,263,000. Of this number, 51 percent are Jews and 3 percent are non-Jewish members of Jewish households, for a total of 54 percent. Eastern Jerusalem residents are not double counted in these estimates. Were we to include the temporary foreign workers, the share of Jews would be reduced by 2 percent. Furthermore, the high level of fertility and young age-composition of the Arabs gives them demographic momentum.
By 2020, on the whole territory, according to a medium projection which assumes a decline of Arab fertility, Jews will be about 47 percent of the total and by 2050 they might be 37 percent. No migrations of Palestinians were taken into account in these projections. Any net migration since 1995 and the natural increase pertaining to those migrants should be factored into the projections.
Also, the Jewish population worldwide has increased very little over the last 50 years. It is close to zero population growth, whereas the Palestinians have a high rate of fertility. Since 1990, Israel has absorbed 1.2 million immigrants, mostly from the former Soviet Union. However, that large reservoir is now nearly depleted. The prospects are quite distant for large-scale immigration from Western countries where most diaspora Jews live. There exists a significant negative correlation between the standard of living in a country and the propensity of Jews from the same country to immigrate to Israel.
Using the official data of the Israel Central Bureau of Statistics, there is a net balance of Arabs who have joined Israeli society within the “green line” since the 1990s, but this barely totals 20,000 people, whereas most of the increase in the Muslim population in Israel is due to the difference between the birth rate and the death rate – the natural increase. Even if the number of Arabs crossing the “green line” is higher – as Israel’s Ministry of Interior maintains – this does not affect the total demographic balance between the Mediterranean and the Jordan.
Jewish Fertility Higher Than in Europe
The fertility rate is obtained by computing the number of children that would be born on the average to a woman if the trend of that year remained constant, though trends are not constant and there are fluctuations. There is extraordinary stability in the fertility rate of the Jewish population. Unlike other advanced societies, especially in Europe and to some extent also in North America, the fertility rate did not go down. This is explained in terms of the peculiar social and cultural framework of Jewish society. Also, there are sub-groups with higher fertility and sub-groups with lower fertility.
The fertility rate of Israeli Christians, who are Arab ethnics, has indeed gone down to a level which is even less than that of the Jews. Interestingly, the Druze birth rate has declined from a high plateau that was maintained up to the 1970s, and has converged down to the level of the Israeli Jewish population, which stands today at 2.7 children. This is a very high level considering that a Catholic country like Italy has 1.2, Spain the same, Greece the same, and Russia even less.
Israeli Muslim Fertility Quite High
The fertility rate of Israeli Muslims within the “green line” reached a spectacular peak in the 1960s of about 10 children on the average, diminishing sharply to 4.5 by 1985, and then remaining virtually constant for the next twenty years, notwithstanding the very significant modernization and the rise in education of Muslim women in Israel. Today the fertility of Israeli Muslims is significantly higher than that of Arabs in many neighboring countries. Fertility of the Palestinians in the territories seems logically more connected to that of Israeli Muslims than to that of other Arab countries.
The population base I used for the Palestinians comes from Israeli data and is not based on the Palestinian census of 1997. I took the base population from the Israeli authorities that were responsible for data collection in the territories. At the point they stopped collecting the data, I updated the figures based on the rate of growth that was prevalent at that time.
Thanks to the Israeli presence in the territories, infant mortality there declined dramatically and life expectancy went up to a level comparable to some European countries and definitely much better than most Arab countries and even Russia.
Furthermore, we are aware that during not only the 1970s but also during the 1960s, much before the Israelis entered at all, there was a definite negative migration balance between the Palestinian territories and other countries, including the formation of large communities not only in Jordan but also in the Gulf countries. That has been a very significant process in keeping the population growth lower. However, after the Gulf War some people reentered, and opportunities for leaving have diminished significantly.
The fundamental issue in this debate is not the specific percentage of the current Jewish majority, or the specific date at which Jews will lose their majority over the whole territory. The crucial demographic dimension concerns the quality of Israel as a Jewish and democratic society. This cannot be preserved under the present and foreseeable demographic trends unless significant decisions are made concerning Israel’s territorial definition.
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The American Research Initiative is headed by Bennett Zimmerman, former strategic analyst at the international management consulting firm Bain & Company; Dr. Roberta Seid, historian and researcher in the non-profit sector; and Dr. Michael Wise, founder and director of a number of public companies in the high technology sector.