'Doomsday' Falsehoods; Israel's Growing Jewish Population

Article excerpt

Byline: Bennett Zimmerman, Roberta Seid and Michael L. Wise, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

As Israel begins a critical national debate about the future of the West Bank, fear of an inevitable Arab demographic threat to Israel's Jewish population underlies the discussion. Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert characterized the urgency of the situation in 2003: "Above all hovers the cloud of demographics. It will come down on us not in the end of days, but in just another few years." Such views are a natural outcome of widely distributed demographic forecasts based on Palestinian Authority population reports for the West Bank and Gaza and on pessimistic assumptions about future Jewish growth.

But the doomsday scenario for Israeli Jews is wrong.

Last year, our American-Israeli research team calculated the 2004 Arab population in the West Bank and Gaza at 2.5 million (1.4 million in the West Bank and 1.1 million in Gaza) instead of the 3.8 million forecast reported as fact by the Palestine Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS). Uncovering this gap of 1.3 million removed more Arabs from Israel's demographic outlook than did the Gaza disengagement.

Corroborated by evidence from the Palestinian Ministry of Health, Ministry of Education and Central Elections Commission, the research established that the PCBS 1997 population base included Jerusalem Arabs already counted in Israel's population surveys and hundreds of thousands of overseas residents. On top of this expanded base, the PCBS built unrealized birth forecasts and assumptions of mass immigration that never occurred. Israel's border records showed steady net Arab emigration both to countries abroad and into pre-1967 Israel and Jerusalem. Indeed, Jewish growth rates since 1997 have surpassed West Bank Arab growth: 2.1 percent versus 1.8 percent, not because of low Arab fertility, but because of significant emigration from the West Bank.

The magnitude of the errors in PCBS reports - its 2004 population estimate was inflated by more than 50 percent - requires politicians, policy-makers and international aid agencies to revisit their forecasts.

Demographers have issued gloomy predictions for Israeli Jews by accepting the faulty PCBS population data and by ignoring evidence of growing Jewish fertility and decelerating Arab growth. Forecasters have maintained that the "demographic momentum" of a young population will inevitably propel Arabs to majority status.

Unfortunately, they apply this theory to persons who are living abroad or were never born. …