|Israel Resource Review
||7th May, 2006
The Million Person Gap: A Critical Look at Palestinian Demography
Bennett Zimmerman, Roberta Seid and Michael L. Wise
BESA Perspectives No. 15, May 7, 2006
Executive Summary: Population statistics and predictions of the Palestinian
Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS) are unreliable. A BESA study that
subjects Palestinian demography to rigorous analysis shows that the 2004
Palestinian population of the West Bank and Gaza stood at 2.5 million; not
the 3.8 million claimed by the Palestinians. The 1997 PCBS population
survey - which has been widely used as the basis for subsequent
studies -inflated numbers by including over three hundred thousand
Palestinians living abroad and double-counting over two hundred thousand
Jerusalem Arabs included in Israel's population survey. Later PCBS
broadcasts echoed the forecasts of the 1997 study, reporting unrealized
birth forecasts, including assumptions of mass Palestinian immigration that
never occurred, and disregarding significant Palestinian emigration from the
territories to Israel and neighboring Arab countries. The resulting PCBS
report for 2004 inflated the size of the Arab population in the West Bank
and Gaza by over fifty percent. The BESA study and further demographic
research indicate that Israeli concerns about demographic pressure from the
West Bank and Gaza have been exaggerated.
According to demographic projections by the United Nations, the U.S. Census
Bureau, and the Palestinian National Authority, the Arabs of the West Bank
and Gaza are the world's fastest growing population -and residents of the
Palestinian National Authority will outnumber Israeli Jews in the
foreseeable future. But are these estimates accurate?
Our recent study "The Million Person Gap: The Arab Population in the West
Bank and Gaza", (the full 80-page study, with charts, tables and sources, is
available on the BESA Center website at www.besacenter.org) finds
inconsistencies and contradictions in the Palestinian National Authority
data that make it clear that the size of the population in the West Bank and
Gaza has been significantly -and increasingly -exaggerated.
The first official Palestinian number for the West Bank and Gaza, issued in
1997 by the Palestine Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS), was 2.78 million
people. At the same time, the PCBS forecast that its population would grow
to 5.81 million people by 2015. This forecast became the basis of all future
population reports issued by the PCBS. In 2004, following its pre-determined
schedule, the PCBS reported that 3.8 million Arabs were living in the
territories. By combining this figure with 1.3 million Israeli Arabs, the
conclusion was reached that there were 5.1 million Arabs living west of the
Israel estimated in at year-end 1996 that there were 2.11 million Arabs in
the West Bank and Gaza. Palestinian figures diverged in 1997, when the PCBS
issued a number of 2.78 million. The question then became whether the
Palestinians over-counted or the Israelis undercounted.
This is what we found:
1. The 1997 PCBS population base was inflated by the inclusion of residents
living abroad and of Jerusalem Arabs already counted in Israel's population
survey. The PCBS augmented the definition of de facto residents, a term
usually reserved for individuals present in a territory, to include persons
2. The PCBS's projections with respect to birth and immigration were not
met in any year between 1997 and 2004. The actual birth data recorded
annually by the PA Ministry of Health and corroborated by the PA Ministry of
Education showed dramatically fewer births.
3. Instead of the predicted immigration, Israel's records on actual border
entries and exits showed a steady net emigration both to countries abroad
and into pre-1967 Israel.
Quite simply, the PCBS predictions were never adjusted for actual reported
births, deaths and emigration each year, but were instead released as
official reports and accepted without question.
Here are a few details:
- Palestinian numbers include at least 325,000 residents who are living
outside of the territories. This number was the main cause for the jump
between the Israeli and Palestinian counts in the mid-1990s. The head of the
PCBS quantified this figure in the release of the 1997 Census result.
- On top of the population base, the PCBS developed a projection for births
to 2015. By 2003, the PCBS expected that there would be 143,000 births in
the territories. The Palestinian Ministry of Health statistics showed a much
lower rate of births in the territories. Instead of the 907,000 births
predicted by the PCBS for the seven years from 1997-2003, we found
consistent evidence from Palestinian agencies that actual births 308,000
fewer than forecast.
- Immigration assumptions are also an important aspect of the Palestinian
forecast. The original Palestinian assumption was that statehood would occur
in 1999 and that people would immigrate at a rate of 50,000 people per year,
starting in 2001. This inclusion is what made the Palestinian Authority
forecast the highest growth rates in the world, which over time turned into
the highest forecasted birth rates in the world. However, actual activity at
the borders showed net emigration of only 10,000-20,000 persons per year
since 1997. From 1997-2003, the PCBS projected 236,000 new entrants, whereas
Israel border records show 74,000 left; a difference of 310,000.
- Migration to Israel across the Green Line is also a significant
consideration. According to an Israeli Ministry of the Interior report,
105,000 people have changed from the status of Palestinians to Israelis
under family reunification programs since 1997.
* In contrast to the 3.8 million PCBS broadcast in 2004: 2.4 million in the
West Bank and 1.4 million in Gaza; our study produced a significantly lower
population figure of 2.49 million: 1.4 million in the West Bank and 1.1
million in Gaza by mid-2004.
* The PCBS assumed annual growth over 4.7% for Gaza and 4.4% for the West
Bank; however, the actual growth rate was 2.9 percent for Gaza and 1.8% for
the West Bank.
* Our study shows total fertility rates (TFRs) of 5.2 for the West Bank and
5.4 for Gaza. These numbers were comparable to the PCBS 2004 Household
Survey, which yielded numbers of 5.2 for the West Bank and 6.6 for Gaza.
PCBS fertility rates support the level of births found in our study for West
Bank and Gaza. The PCBS forecast substantially overstated births for West
Bank and Gaza because it applied reasonable rates, but included Palestinians
living abroad and Jerusalem Arabs.
After correcting the current population figures, in a separate yet
unpublished study, we developed a forecast based on recent growth and
- We found that the current 2 to 1 Jewish to Arab majority in the West Bank
and Israel will remain stable through 2025 because of high Jewish fertility
rates (the highest of any Western nation), high but declining Arab fertility
rates, and continuing modest Jewish immigration, and neutral migration into
the Israel Arab sector. The West Bank forecast starts with updated figures
from our study and uses fertility forecasts published by the UN and the PCBS
for the territory.
- The key assumption behind the Jewish population growth is the Jewish
fertility rate. Previously, the Israel Central Bureau of Statistics (ICBS)
had assumed that Jewish TFRs would top off at 2.6 births per woman (in the
high case scenario), or decline to 2.4 or 2.1 (in the medium and low case
- However, between 2000 and 2004, the Jewish fertility rate actually rose to
2.71. Our research considers three slightly higher fertility scenarios for
Israeli Jews (with a base birth rate of 2.7 births per woman), and projects
fertility rates in 2025 of 2.4, 2.7, or 3 for the low, medium, and high
- For Israeli Muslims, the ICBS projected that the 2000 rate of 4.7 births
per woman would continue until 2025 in its high case scenario. The medium
and low PCBS projections would fall gradually 3.8 and 2.6 respectively.
However, since 2000, the actual rate among Israeli Muslims has rapidly
dropped to 4.36, following along the lowest trajectory developed by the
ICBS. Similarly, the overall Israel Arab (including Christian Arabs and
Druze) TFR has fallen to 4.0 in 2004. Thus, we predict three new scenarios
for Israel Arabs: birth rates starting at current level of 4.0 births per
woman and moving to 2.4, 3, and 4 by 2025 for the low, medium, and high
- For West Bank Arabs, the UN population estimates (which come from the
PCBS) predict that by 2025, the TFR will drop from 5.4 to 3.2 births per
woman for the middle scenario. Our study predicts a drop from 5 to 4 births
per woman for the high scenario (a higher birth scenario than provided by
PCBS), or a significant drop from 5 to 2.4 births per woman for the low
scenario. This drop in TFR is consistent with the entire Middle East region,
where dramatic drops in TFR were registered across the board between
1970-1975 and 2000-2005.
The overall mid-case scenario for Israel and the West Bank presented by our
study posits that by 2025, the Israeli Jewish portion of the population will
decline from the current 67 percent to 63 percent. In the lowest-case
scenario, the Jewish population will decline to 56 percent of the
population, whereas in the highest-case scenario the Jewish population will
grow to 71 percent of the population in Israel and the West Bank. For Israel
proper, the mid-case scenario posits that the percentage of Israeli Jews
will drop from the current 81 percent to 77 percent in 2025. The low-case
scenario could see the percentage of Israeli Jews drop to as low as 72
percent, and the high-case scenario could see the percentage of Israeli Jews
rise to 83 percent.
Ultimately, contrary to popular belief, there has been tremendous stability
in the demographic balance in the area, which, barring large-scale
migrations, can be expected to continue over the next twenty years. Thus, we
find that Israeli concerns about demographic pressure, especially those from
the West Bank, have been exaggerated. In truth, while the long-term outcome
could change either way depending on fertility and migration patterns, the
demographic challenges in Israeli society remain similar to the levels seen
since 1967. Moreover, the false PCBS figures have influenced infrastructure
planning including water and land use, and have served as the basis for
American and international foreign aid to the PA.
Mr. Bennett Zimmerman, a former Strategy Consultant with Bain & Company,
holds an M.B.A. from Harvard Business School and has conducted numerous due
diligence audits on business and governmental organizations. Roberta P.
Seid, PhD, is a historian and former lecturer at the University of Southern
California. She is a researcher and consultant on Israeli history,
particularly on events surrounding Israel's War of Independence. Dr. Michael
L. Wise, PhD, a physicist and expert in mathematic model techniques, is the
founder and director of a wide range of public and private companies in the
United States and Israel.
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U.S. Teen Recovering From Blast: Abbas's Deputy Praises the Attack
Tel Aviv - Daniel Wultz, a 16 year old Florida teenager who was severely wounded in the April 19th Tel Aviv terror attack in which nine people were murdered, has woken up from a coma and officials at Tel Aviv's Ichilov Hospital now say that Wultz's life is no longer in danger. The doctors said that one of Wultz's legs was amputated, and doctors are still trying to save his other leg, which is suffering from severely reduced blood flow. He has already lost a kidney and his spleen.
Abu Nasser, a senior leader of the Fateh's "Al Aqsa Martyrs" Brigades, which took credit for the terror attack, reports directly to Machmud Abbas, the chairman of the Fateh organization and the president of the Palestinian Authority who gave an interview last week to native Philadelphia journalist, Aaron Klein, who is the bureau chief of WorldNetDaily, an internet news service.
In the interview with Klein, Abu Nasser said that Danny Wultz was the "best target combination we can dream of - American and Zionist."
Abu Nasser went on to say that "It is known that the Jews are sly and not honest, and they are leading into this trap of the Middle East in order to carry out their plan of controlling the world."
This ran in The Evening Bulletin, Philadelphia, May 3rd, 2006
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