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December 30, 2014 1:36 pm

Inflated Palestinian Population Figures Lie Behind Talk of ‘Demographic Time Bomb,’ Israeli Expert Says

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Palestinians in Ramallah celebrate Christmas 2014: the Palestinian statistics bureau has overestimated the Palestinian population by over 1 million, says Israeli demography expert Yoram Ettinger. Photo: Twitter

The latest demographic survey of the Palestinian population by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics overestimates the number of Palestinian residents between the Mediterranean Sea and the River Jordan by around 1.2 million, a leading Israeli expert on demography has told The Algemeiner.

Ambassador Yoram Ettinger, a former Israeli diplomat who now works as a lecturer and consultant and is well-known in policy circles for his research on Palestinian and Israeli demography, said that the Palestinian statistics, released yesterday, “are inflated by more than 1 million in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) and by almost 400,000 in Gaza.”

According to the Palestinian statistics bureau, there are over 6 million Palestinians living west of the Jordan; Ettinger calculates the number at 4.8 million.

The inflated numbers are a key factor behind the current claim that Palestinians will outnumber Jews living in Israel and the Palestinian territories by 2016. Similarly false claims have been made in previous years, triggering the politically-loaded conclusion that Israel, in supposedly becoming a country where a Jewish minority rules over an Arab majority, has effectively emerged as an apartheid state.

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Ettinger identified several methodological flaws in the official Palestinian count. “According to their own records, they include over 400,000, mostly in Judea and Samaria, who are abroad for more than a year,” he said. This contradicts, Ettinger said, the “international standards” which dictate that a person who lives outside his or her country for more than a year should not be included in a count of the resident population.

“The only entity that doesn’t follow this practice is the Palestinian statistics bureau,” Ettinger said.

The 300,000 residents of eastern Jerusalem who carry Israeli identity cards comprise a similar problem in terms of population count, Ettinger observed, as they are “counted twice, in the Israeli count of the number of Israeli Arabs, and the Palestinian count of the number of residents of the West Bank.” The 105,000 Palestinians who received Israeli citizenship between 1997 and 2003 by virtue of marrying Israeli Arab citizens – a pathway canceled by an Israeli Supreme Court decision in 2003, which denied automatic citizenship through marriage to residents of several Arab and Muslim countries that do not have diplomatic relations with Israel – are also “doubly counted,” Ettinger said.

All these numbers, Ettinger emphasized, grow every year, “because many of these people produce children who are added to the numbers.” In October 2014, he noted, the Palestinian deputy interior minister even said that “100,000 children born to overseas Palestinians had been added to the overall count.”

When it comes to migration patterns, Palestinian statistics are equally problematic, Ettinger said. Since there is no net immigration into Palestinian areas, population surveys assume no net emigration – yet, Ettinger pointed out, data collected by the Israeli border police, who control all 13 land, sea and air exit points into Israel and the Palestinian territories, demonstrates that in 2013, net emigration stood at 20,000, with similar numbers recorded over the four previous years. Significantly, this does not include Gaza, where no count has been conducted since the Israeli withdrawal in 2005, but Ettinger asserted that “those who deal with Gaza say the number of emigrants is much higher, as a result of war, instability and the disintegrating economy.”

Once adjustments for the Palestinian errors are made, Ettinger said, a different picture of Arab settlement emerges: 1.7 million in the West Bank (as opposed to the 2.83 million claimed in the Palestinian survey, which includes eastern Jerusalem) and 1.4 million in Gaza (instead of the 1.79 million in the Gaza Strip claimed in the survey.) Interestingly, the Palestinian survey gives a lower account of the number of Palestinians resident in Israel – 1.46 million, as opposed to the 1.7 million claimed in the Israeli count – though this is likely connected to the manner in which residents of eastern Jerusalem are counted by Palestinian and Israeli sources respectively.

With 6.5 million Jews resident in Israel, Ettinger said, there is a clear Jewish majority of 66 percent in Israel and the West Bank – that figure dips to 58 percent if Gaza is factored in. Moreover, he said, birth patterns are now weighted towards the Jewish population: the Palestinian fertility rate has dropped from 5 babies per mother in 2000 to 2.9 now, while the Jewish birth rate “is slightly over three and increasing.”Among the reasons for the drop in the Palestinian birth rate is the growing popularity of contraception, increasing access to higher education, and a trend towards urbanization, which means that Palestinian women are marrying later in life.

The Jewish population has additionally been boosted by favorable migration patterns – according to Ettinger, Israel “is now benefiting from the highest number per capita ever of returning expatriates” – and increasing fertility among the secular Jewish population. This includes the descendants of the 1 million Jews who came to Israel from the former Soviet Union during the 1990s, whose fertility rate exceeds two children per family, as well as the burgeoning Israeli middle class, who twenty years ago would have had one or two children per family, and who presently have three or four.

While Ettinger’s revisions are unlikely to stall the continual talk of a “demographic time bomb” toppling Israel’s Jewish majority, his calculations are, he said, regarded as far more reliable by experts on demography. The prevalence in the media of the Palestinian figures is, he argued, partly down to the international protocol of regarding statistics assembled by national authorities as beyond reproach. “It is assumed that central statistics bureaus are above politics,” he said.

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