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Study: Gov´t Basing Decisions on Flawed Demographic Data

A report that exposes the fallacy of the "demographic threat" of an Arab majority between the Jordan River and Mediterranean Sea is being presented by Israel's Government Press Office.
First Publish: 6/9/2005, 1:37 PM / Last Update: 6/8/2005, 1:44 PM

The new data raises doubts about one of the central arguments advanced by PM Ariel Sharon on behalf of the withdrawal plan.

"Unfortunately, the Prime Minister and the Cabinet as a whole are basing critical policy decisions on grossly flawed demographic assumptions and data," says former Knesset consultant and analyst Yoram Ettinger. "That is why it is so important that this report be increasingly recognized at this time."

The study, carried out by a Washongton D.C.-based think tank and scrutinized by the leading American demographer, Dr. Nick Eberstadt, undermines the assumption that Arabs in Judea, Samaria and Gaza pose a demographic threat to Israel. The researchers reported that the 2004 Arab population of Judea, Samaria and Gaza was closer to 2.4 million than to the 3.8 million reported by the Palestinian Authority (PA). "These findings," the report states, "should have a significant impact on politicians, policy makers and international aid agencies."

The million-and-a-half person gap occurred because the PA numbers are based on Palestine Bureau of Statistics (PBS) projections made in 1997, not on actual population counts. The PBS used their official 1997 census as a base population and assumed the population would grow at 4 to 5% a year, one of the highest growth rates in the world. When the research team reviewed PA Ministry of Health birth data and actual border entry/exit data, they found that the PBS projected growth rate was not met in any year between 1997 and 2004.

The American-based project was led by Bennett Zimmerman, a former Strategy Consultant with Bain & Company. On the research team were historian Dr. Roberta Seid and Dr. Michael Wise, a physicist and expert in mathematic modeling techniques. Yoram Ettinger, a former minister at the Israeli Embassy in Washington, DC and an expert in Middle East politics, led the Israel research team with members Brig. Gen. (Ret.) David Shahaf, former Head of the Civil Administration in Judea and Samaria; Prof. Ezra Sohar who has published several research papers on demographics in Israel; Dr. David Passig, an expert in forecasting, Avraham Shvout, who has tracked both Jewish and Arab population in Judea and Samaria, and Yakov Faitelson, who has researched demography of the Arab population of Judea and Samaria since 1975.

The most extraordinary aspect of the meticulous study is that it undercuts the claim that Jews will become a minority between the Jordan River and Mediterranean Sea if Israel retains, or even annexes Gaza, Judea and Samaria - the areas liberated in the 1967 Six Day War.

"There is now a 60% Jewish majority between the Jordan and the Mediterranean," Ettinger said. "This has been the case, more or less, since 1967. "The difference is that in 1967 we were at the beginning of a huge increase in Palestinian natural growth rate - but today we stand at a time when the Palestinian population is going through a drastic decline in natural increase."

Ettinger insists that not only will a Jewish majority be maintained, it will only increase from now on. "The 60% of today is by far a drastic improvement over 1967," he said, "and the long-term trends dictate that the Jewish majority will increase as Palestinian natural growth rate continues to decrease, and negative migration continues to be very high."

In addition to the drop in Arab birth-rates, Ettinger points out that – more Arabs have moved out of Judea and Samaria than have moved in. He says that this trend of Arabs moving away has intensified in the recent years since Israel transferred sovereignty over Judea and Samaria to the Palestinian Authority. On the average since 1950, Palestinian net emigration has been 10,000 annually."

These figures stand in sharp contrast to the steady flow of net Jewish increase due to Jews making Aliyah (immigrating to Israel) since 1882.

Other facts presented in the report are:
Fewer births: PA Ministry of Health birth reports were substantially lower than the number predicted by the PBS.
Lower Fertility Rates: PA Arab fertility rates declined from the mid-90's through 2003, according to PA Ministry of Health, consistent with the trend occurring in other Middle Eastern Arab societies.
Double Counting: 210,000 Jerusalem Arabs who are already counted in Israel's population survey were included in the PA survey.
Inclusion of non-residents: PA Arabs with ID's living abroad for over one year were included in the PA Census & Projection.
Internal migration: 150,000 PA Arabs who have legally relocated to Israel since 1993 are still counted by the PA.
Retrospective Alterations of Recorded Birth data.

"The most convincing evidence again came from the Palestinians themselves," explained researcher Roberta Seid, Ph.D. "The PA Central Election Commission press release of October 14, 2004 acknowledged that 200,000 of Palestinians were living abroad and that the number of eligible voters living in the Territories was only 1.3 million. These figures corroborate our lowest population calculations."

Since its original publication in January, the leaders of the study have presented their finding to President Moshe Katzav, National Security Advisor General (res.) Giora Eiland, the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, the Knesset Government Operations Committee, the State Comptroller, the Central Bureau of Statistics, the Foreign Ministry and in private meetings with Cabinet Members and Knesset members. They have now been invited to present their findings at Israel's National Security Council, the Haifa Technion, Knesset Committees, and the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies.

Though the report debuted in January, it is being presented at Israel's Government Press Office Thursday. "Since January, it has become part of the Israeli public debate," Ettinger said. "There is one team of the 'demographers of doom,' who have been feeding the public data based on gross misinterpretations. Now that we have documented this and presented the facts, they are gradually being accepted."

Despite the new revelations, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon continues to present demographics as the central reason for an Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and northern Samaria. "We are not allowed to ignore the demographic reality in the land of Israel, and even within the borders of the State of Israel," Sharon said Tuesday in an address at Bar Ilan University. "This reality entails sober decisions now. Any postponement in making the necessary decisions will not relieve us of the need to tackle the difficult questions."

The entire study can be viewed at PAdemographics.com or by clicking here.