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by Bennett Zimmerman, Roberta Seid and Michael L. Wise


Executive Summary:

Population statistics and predictions of the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS) are unreliable. A Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies. (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 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 Jordan River.

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 living abroad.

  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:

After correcting the current population figures, in a separate yet unpublished study, we developed a forecast based on recent growth and fertility trends.

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.

The complete report called "The Million Person Gap", formatted as a PDF file -- MSPS65.pdf -- can be found as item #65 at

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.

This article is a Perspectives essay published by the Begin-Sadat (BESA) Center for Strategic Studies. It can be downloaded at or from It was last updated May 23, 2006.

[Editor's note: See also, "Jewish Demographic Momentum exposes severe errors by 'Demographers of Doom'" by Yoram Ettinger. Click here. and "The Case against Demographobia" by Yoram Ettinger. Click here ]


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