Blindfolded: Palestinian Demography
Israelis and Jews around the world are rightly proud of our small country’s hard-punching intelligence services. Each month brings new revelations of operational triumphs, which burnish such legendary agencies as Mossad, or Army intelligence Unit 8200 into the nightmares of our enemies, while earning the admiration of our friends around the world.
Quietly liquidating a Hamas weapons trafficker in Dubai? No problem. Monitoring and arranging explosive accidents for Iranian arms convoys on their way through Africa? Piece of cake. Penetrating the most heavily guarded facilities in Iran to take pictures of German serial numbers on nuclear centrifuges? Been there, done that, and got the matching mug and t-shirt to prove it.
Great, then perhaps someone in the IDF, Shin Bet, Mossad, or Unit 8200 could tell me how many Palestinians there are in the West Bank. Determining this may not be as glamorous as cataloguing what Bashar Assad had for breakfast this morning by way of satellite imagery. Still, I would contend that knowing how many West Bank Palestinians we must contend with is considerably more important for the security and future of what Moshe Dayan referred to as the 3rd Temple – the State of Israel.
Actually getting a head count for West Bank Palestinians from the Government of Israel, or its many intelligence agencies, is exceedingly difficult. The Army will refer you to the Civil Administration, which will refer you to the Israeli government, which will refer you to the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics, which will refer you to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS).
Of course, the PCBS, having for years grossly inflated Palestinian demographics as a political weapon in the Arab conflict with Israel, is an organization greatly lacking in credibility, to put it mildly. As Michael Rubin neatly summarized in Commentary, the PCBS “isn’t allowed to report Palestinian emigration, double-counts Jerusalem (which is also counted by Israel), and has made revisions at the request of the Palestinian leadership when the population in Jerusalem, for example, was found to have declined. The error today may exceed one million people throughout areas claimed by the Palestinian Authority.”
More importantly, if we wanted to ask the PCBS how many Palestinians there were, well, we’d ask them. What I’d like to know, is how it is possible for Israeli intelligence agencies, which can remotely hack Syrian air defense systems, to not know whether there are 2.5 million Palestinians in the West Bank, as Palestinians claim, or more like 1.5 million, as asserted by reputable, independent studies.
By all accounts, official Israeli confusion on this question should be outright impossible. After all, Israel maintains an extensive paperwork regime in the West Bank, now helpfully managed by the Palestinians in coordination with the Civil Administration. Every Palestinian birth and death is noted in one database or another. Likewise, every eligible Palestinian is issued a Hawiyeh – a cross between a form of identification and an internal passport. Other metrics exist, including the number of Palestinian households connected to electricity, water or sanitation infrastructure. If nothing else, let’s simply count the residential and cellular phone numbers.
To put it bluntly, there is no shortage of ways to determine or estimate how many Palestinians there are in the West Bank. Yet, all official Israeli bodies, including those conducting diplomacy at the highest levels, refer only to Palestinian demographics as certified by the PCBS, fully cognizant that the bureau’s professional credentials are politically compromised, and for the express purpose of manipulating to the Palestinian benefit the very diplomacy Israel is engaged in.
Given what we know of the capabilities of Israeli intelligence agencies, thinking minds cannot accept that Israel does not, in fact, have its own, internal estimates of the number of Palestinians living in the West Bank. This number must certainly exist, but if so, it’s reasonable to ask why it isn’t being made public. Either Palestinian demographic data supplied by the PCBS matches internal Israeli estimates, or it doesn’t. If the Palestinians truly are in the range of 2.5-3 million residents in the West Bank, as they claim, this has important implications, not just for Israeli diplomacy, but for the future of more than half a million Israelis currently living in Judea and Samaria. Likewise, if Palestinian demographics are closer to the 1.5 million figure, as reputable critics allege, then this, too, has considerable repercussions for all parties.
The lack of official Israeli transparency on the question of Palestinian demographics has led to some unfortunate speculation on the potential motivations of Israeli officials in sequestering data vital to a healthy, democratic decision-making process from the public eye. Given that the official Israeli position parrots the Palestinian figures, without corroborating them using internal Israeli estimates, it is reasonable to suspect that actual Palestinian demographics are more favorable to Israel than we now believe. The time has come for the Israeli government to make internal estimates on Palestinian demographics available to its citizens. That way we, the people, and not unelected bureaucrats or unaccountable diplomats, can make responsible decisions about our country’s future.
David Ha’ivri is the director of the Shomron Liaison Office. He and his wife Mollie live in Kfar Tapuach, Shomron with their eight children. You can follow him on Twitter @haivri