The urgency for Israel to resolve the problem of the Palestinian Arab territories is in large part predicated on a so-called “demographic time bomb” that will supposedly create an Arab majority between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea within just a few years. This would presumably destroy Jewish self-determination, and with it, the Jewish state.
This nonsensical commonplace—most frequently purveyed by Americans and Israelis of the left/progressive persuasion—is based on a fraudulent 1997 census administered by the Palestinian Authority. In 2017, a less rigorous count of the Palestinian Arabs living in the disputed territories used the 1997 census as a base, multiplying the fraud.
Here’s how the “demographic time bomb” argument works:
The 1997 population reported for the territories by the P.A.—3.8 million—combined with the 1.2 million Arabs living in Israel proper yielded a 1997 total of 5 million Arabs. With a projected Palestinian population growth rate of nearly five percent, the scary prediction was that the combined Arab population would surpass the Jewish population of roughly 5.8 million in about two decades.
Sure enough, the 2017 “count” showed an Arab population of 4.7 million in the disputed territories. The 2019 Israeli census found 1.9 million Arab Israelis, so the 2019 total would seem to be at least 6.6 million. This is quite close to the 2019 Jewish population of Israel, which totaled 6.7 million. According to the more gullible demographers, these numbers prove that an Israeli annexation of Judea, Samaria and Gaza will yield an Arab voting majority in the expanded nation.
Even omitting Gaza and its alleged 1.9 million Palestinian Arabs, the theorists warn, will only spare Israel a Palestinian Arab majority for a decade or so, given the inexorable march of demographic destiny.
For this reason alone, Israel has no choice, it is argued, other than to give the Palestinian Arabs their own state, if only to ensure that Israel retains both its Jewishness and its democracy.
The teensy fly in this ointment, however, is that P.A.’s census and projections were utter fictions. The P.A.’s census numbers were far higher than the best Israeli government estimates—breathtakingly so.
As Israeli demographers, such as Yoram Ettinger, looked into the details of the P.A. census, it quickly became clear that its methodology was fatally flawed. These flaws included double counting, ludicrous birth and death statistics, immigration assumptions that bore no relationship to reality, violations of international census standards, and direct conflicts with publicly available data from other P.A. agencies and world bodies.
Here are just a few of the 1997 fraud’s elements:
• The entire Arab population of Jerusalem of almost 300,000 souls was double-counted; they were included in both the Israeli and P.A. census figures.
• 400,000 Palestinian Arabs who live permanently abroad were counted by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS). This is a major census no-no by all accepted world standards.
• Compared with birth and death records from the Palestine Central Election Commission and the Palestinian Departments of Health and Education, the P.A.’s approved PCBS count simply invented babies and reanimated corpses by the tens of thousands. In some cities, the reported death rate was zero, and Palestinians born in 1847 were resurrected for census purposes.
• The P.A. census invented tens of thousands of immigrants into the territories, when in fact there has been net emigration from the territories according to Israeli border control and immigration data. The number varies, but is typically between 10,000 and 25,000 per year. This means that the Palestinian territories actually lost at least 200,000 residents between the two censuses.
• Between 1997 and 2003, Palestinian Arabs who wed Israeli Arabs won automatic Israeli citizenship. There were more than 100,000 of them, and they and their (Israeli) children are also double-counted by the PCBS.
• The number of first-grade children and births tabulated in a World Bank study, as well as by the P.A.’s own Department of Education, is tens of thousands fewer than the PCBS “counted.”
In short, the P.A.’s census bureau simply made it up as they went along to satisfy the predetermined population figures that party bosses in Ramallah demanded.
The probable actual 1997 total of Arabs living in the disputed territories was inflated by approximately 50 percent for the census—about 1.2 million extra residents. The actual total of Palestinian Arabs back in 1997 was 2.6 million, and the likely total in the more recent study is little more than 3.2 million, not the 4.7 million alleged by the P.A.
Combined with Israeli Arabs, the touted demographic time-bomb simply disappears: Between the River and the Sea today, Israeli Jews outnumber the Arabs by 6.7 million to 5.1 million.
But the demographic good news for Israel goes even deeper. Jewish Israelis fertility rates have boomed in the past 20 years, while Palestinian fertility rates have plummeted: Palestinians have shifted from rural to urban settings and have received far more education and access to birth control (thanks to Israel) and Palestinian women in particular are literate, better educated and work-engaged.
It is tempting to attribute Israeli fecundity to the ultra-Orthodox population boom, but the opposite is true. Orthodox women are producing smaller families, while Israel’s secular families are growing more rapidly. In fact, the aggregate fertility rate for Israeli Jews is now 3.2, while it is 3.1 for Palestinian Arabs.
In other words, the favorable demographics for Jews are likely to accelerate, not slow down.
There may be many valid reasons for Israel and its friends to desire disengagement from the disputed territories. However, the demographic threat of an Arab majority has no legitimacy whatsoever.
As you discuss the future of Israel as a Jewish democracy with friends, family and colleagues, I urge you to explain the bogus statistics of Palestinian population claims. Population figures should play no role—and certainly, not impose false urgency—for Israel and its supporters in seeking a just and peaceful resolution of the issues between the Jewish nation and its adversaries.
Ken Cohen is editor of Facts and Logic About the Middle East (FLAME), which publishes educational messages to correct lies and misperceptions about Israel and its relationship to the United States.
Be a part of our community
JNS is your ideological home. Situated at the center of the pro-Israel ecosystem, we provide readers with the critical context they need on issues facing Israel and their Jewish world.
You can help support our efforts — and enjoy an ad-free experience, as well as premium content and other community benefits.
Join our community and help us continue to keep you engaged and informed.