Israel News

The Palestinians’ fuzzy math

Click photo to download. Caption: Yoram Ettinger.
Click photo to download. Caption: Yoram Ettinger.

The Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS) recently published its December 2011 report, contending that in 2016 Jews will become a minority between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. According to the PCBS, there are 2.6 million Arabs in Judea and Samaria and 1.6 million Arabs in Gaza.

The PCBS report is dramatically mistaken and misleading. The number of Arabs is inflated by one million people in Judea and Samaria and by 300,000 in Gaza. The rapidly Westernizing Arab fertility rate is artificially bloated. And the significant Jewish demographic tailwind and the substantial Arab demographic headwind are concealed.

The head of the PCBS, Hassan Abu Libdeh, told the New York Times on Dec. 11, 1997, upon the completion of the first Palestinian census, that the census “is a civil intifada.”

Within this context, the erroneous PCBS numbers—which have yet to be audited by the U.S.—enable the Palestinian Authority to rob U.S. taxpayers and those of other generous countries that provide aid to the PA. Western foreign aid to the Palestinian Authority has been partly based on the highly inflated number of Palestinians.

Moreover, the PCBS report feeds demographic misconceptions which constitute effective psychological terrorism, eroding optimism and confidence in the future of the Jewish state, and spooking Israel into making sweeping concessions. These misconceptions undermine Israel’s national security policy and diplomacy, and they attempt to sow pessimism within Jews considering aliyah, as well as in long-term planning and overseas investments in Israel.

These false PCBS numbers fuel insidious Arab-phobia, which is nurtured mostly by the illogical fear of Arab demography.

In fact, the Westernization of Arab fertility, west of the Jordan River, has been consistent with reality in the Middle East. According to the CIA Factbook, Iran’s fertility rate has plummeted to 1.9 babies per woman, Jordan’s to 3.4, Egypt’s to 2.97, Syria’s to 2.94, Saudi Arabia’s to 2.3, and North Africa’s to two, etc. Israel’s Jewish fertility rate—three births per woman and trending upward due to the secular fertility surge—is higher than all Arab countries aside from the Sudan (4.9), Yemen (4.6), Iraq (3.7) and Jordan (3.4). Based on these numbers, the myth of doubling the Muslim population every 20 years has been shattered.

Demographic precedents indicate that there is a slim probability that high fertility rates can be resurrected following a sustained period of significant reduction.

The CIA Factbook disputes the PCBS claim of a 3.8 Arab fertility rate in Judea and Samaria, putting it instead at 3.5. While the PCBS contends 32.8 births per 1,000 women, the CIA Factbook notes a 24.56 rate. In a September 2006 report, the World Bank documented (page 8) a 32 percent gap between the annual number of PCBS-projected and actual Arab births. For the first time since 1948, there is a convergence of fertility rates between young Jewish and Arab women west of the Jordan River.

The Arab fertility rate in Judea and Samaria has declined due to urbanization (30 percent in 1967 and 75 percent in 2011, with 30 percent unemployment), education expansion (especially among women), the spread of contraceptives, declining teen pregnancy, a high-median wedding age, and a record divorce rate.

Annual net-emigration of 17,000 persons—mostly in their reproductive years—has contributed to the Arab fertility rate decline in Judea and Samaria. At the same time, aliyah has enhanced the Jewish fertility rate, which has surged, as detailed in a previous article ( While the annual number of Arab births stabilized during 1995-2011, the annual number of Jewish births catapulted by 56 percent!

PCBS numbers were initially inflated in June 1997, during the height of aliyah from the former USSR. In 2011, the inflated number of Judea and Samaria Arabs includes more than 400,000 overseas residents—in violation of international demographic standards— the 270,000 Jerusalem Arabs, who are doubly counted as Israelis and Palestinians, and 105,000 Palestinians who married Israeli Arabs, received Israeli ID cards and are also counted twice. In addition, the number of documented (home, clinic and hospital) births by the Palestinian Health and Education Ministries has been dramatically lower than projections published by the PCBS, which has ignored annual net-emigration, setting migration at zero.

Notwithstanding the PCBS misrepresentations, there is a demographic challenge, but no demographic time bomb and no demographic machete at the throat of the Jewish state. From an 8 percent and 33 percent minority in 1900 and 1947 respectively, the Jewish population has become a majority of 66 percent west of the Jordan River, not counting Gaza.

Persistence of the current demographic trends, bolstered by aggressive aliyah and demographic policies, which are long overdue, could expand the Jewish majority from 66 percent to 80 percent by 2035.

Yoram Ettinger is a former ambassador and of “Second Thought: a U.S.-Israel Initiative.” 

Editor’s note: This column first appeared in Israel Hayom and is distributed with the permission of Yoram Ettinger.

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