Thursday, March 30, 2006

Fewer Palestinean Arabs than anyone thought

The officially accepted number of Palestineans in the West Bank and Gaza is overstated by over 50% according to a new academic study. The study found that the actual number (as of the middle of 2004) is likely 2.49 million, while the official number is 3.83 million, producing a gap of 1.34 million people. The study explains,
The Israel Central Bureau of Statistics (ICBS) had been responsible for recording population data in the Territories during Israel’s Civil Administration from 1967 until 1994-1995 when, in conformity with the 1993 Oslo Accords, it transferred this responsibility to the PA and ceased its own work. The PA established the Palestine Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS) to perform this function. In 1997, it conducted its first census and used the results to develop population growth projections for each year from 1998 to 2015.1 It is these predictions that the PA has officially issued each year as its population size. These statistics have been routinely accepted by Israeli government agencies, the UN, the World Bank, the EU, the US State Department, and many demographers have used the PCBS data for their own projections.2 However, the PCBS methodology, statistics, and assumptions have never been fully examined or evaluated.
Some of the reported discrepancies include:
  • Inclusion of non-resident Palestinean Arabs living abroad (325,000)
  • Inclusion of Jerusalem Arabs already counted in Israel's population figures (210,000)
  • Unexplained increase over ICBS records (113,000)
  • Items that kept the post-1997 growth rate lower than forecast:
    • Fewer births (238,000)
    • Alterations of recorded birth data (70,000)
    • Migration to Israel (105,000)
    • Other migration--net emigration instead of immigration (310,000)
Why does this matter? Rabbi Mark Ankcorn (from whom I learned of the study), cites two reasons:
  • First, foreign aide from the US and Europe is based in part on population data.
  • Second Israel's strategic thinking could change significantly. If this study is correct that the Palestinean population is growing slower than expected, then a one-state solution might be a viable alternative for Israel. The conventional wisdom has been that Palestinean population growth would eventually make Jews a minority in a hypothetical one-state environment; this would be the effective end of Israel as a Jewish state. (I will discuss this more in a future post.