The Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, whose population estimates have long been subject to accusations of exaggeration, on Tuesday projected that the Arab population in Israel, the West Bank, Gaza and eastern Jerusalem will match the Israeli Jewish population by 2016 and surpass it by 2020, the Associated Press reported.
Year-end Israeli population data for 2012 said that 6 million Jews live in the country, compared with the 5.8 million Arabs cited by the Palestinian bureau. By 2020, Arabs will outnumber Jews by 7.2 million to 6.9 million, according to the Palestinian bureau.
The Palestinian bureau’s calculations, however, have been called into question in the past. In February 2005, the bureau released a study by al-Aqsa University professor Yousef Ibrahim that said the Arab population of Israel, the West Bank, Gaza and eastern Jerusalem would reach 6.3 million by 2010. That projection, however, is 500,000 lower than what the bureau on Tuesday said is the current Arab population.
Pre-1967 counts of Palestinian Arabs were known to be rough estimates, as opposed to Israel’s scientific population counts. In 1997, the Palestinians’ first independent census cited a 29-percent Arab population increase over a four-year period, which demographers said far outpaced conventional population growth.
“Palestinian demography of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries has never been just a matter of numbers,” University of Illinois economics professor Fred M. Gottheil has noted, according to Middle East Forum. “It has always been—and consciously so—a frontline weapon used in a life-and-death struggle for nationhood… The problem with staking so much on so narrow a focus as past demography is that the data generated by demographers and others since the early nineteenth century are so lacking in precision that, in some matters of dispute concerning demography, ‘anyone’s guess,’ as the saying goes, ‘is as good as any other.’”
Israelis who support the establishment of a Palestinian state have also cited Palestinian population estimates in their arguments.