Palestinians Tallied for Talks; Politics, Wary Public Defy Census Takers

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), October 26, 2007 | Go to article overview

Palestinians Tallied for Talks; Politics, Wary Public Defy Census Takers


Byline: Joshua Mitnick, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

RAMALLAH, West Bank - The Palestinian Authority is conducting its first census in a decade, collecting comprehensive population figures needed for a final peace agreement in which millions of Palestinians expect restitution for their displacement by Israel.

But the politically charged tally faces resistance from a Palestinian public embittered by internal strife, corruption and Israeli restrictions on Palestinian travel in the West Bank.

As field workers knock on doors, many homeowners are reluctant to be forthcoming.

At the same time, Palestinian statistics chiefs in Ramallah can't check workers in the Gaza Strip because they don't have travel permits for the Hamas-controlled territory.

"I don't want to stand here and claim that everything is going fine and everything is going perfectly," said Mahmoud Jeradat, a statistician at the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics who is overseeing the census. "We're not talking about the census as a political project, but the results are nonetheless always used by negotiators."

The census is being conducted weeks before a U.S.-backed international conference on Middle East peace in Annapolis, but final results are not expected before next year.

Demographic analysts estimate that 3.4 million Palestinians are living alongside 7.1 million Israelis, 20 percent of whom are Arab.

Trends pointing to gradual erosion of the Jewish majority are cited by a growing number of Israeli politicians who support relinquishing control over the Palestinian territories.

The census won't include millions of Palestinian refugees and their descendants who live in such countries as Lebanon and Jordan, and who are demanding the right to return to their original homes as part of a peace deal.

The Palestinian statistics bureau is sending 5,500 researchers throughout the West Bank and Gaza in the coming weeks to mark buildings and distribute questionnaires. …

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