Barak Ravid
Haaretz (Blog)
January 2, 2012 - 1:00am

Every year, in almost every country, government reports detailing statistics and demographics of the country's citizens are published during the last week of December. The reports detail how many babies were born that year and how many people died.

Some of those reports are turned into semi-comic articles on the back page of the newspaper, or discussed on current event radio programs, and sometimes they are simply thrown to the wastebasket.

Last week, the Palestinian Authority's Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) published its report summarizing 2011. As one could expect, the conclusions of the report barely rose to Israeli consciousness, and the media almost completely ignored the findings. But a brief look over the report shows a worrying picture, which raises hopes that at least some of the government ministers were exposed to the statistics.

The report revealed that the number of Palestinians in the territories stands at about 4.2 million people: 2.6 million in the West Bank and 1.6 million in the Gaza Strip. Added to them are about 1.4 million Palestinians who are Israeli citizens and about 5.6 million Palestinians that belong to the Arab countries and the rest of the world.

Three days after the Palestinian Authority's statistics was published, the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) released its own report summarizing 2011. According to that report, the number of Israelis stands at 7.8 million people: 5.9 Jews, 1.6 million Arabs and 325,000 defined as "others."

A conclusion of the findings shows that the number of Jews and Palestinians between the Jordan River and Mediterranean Sea are almost even. According to the Palestinian Authority's CBS there are about 300,000 more Jews than Palestinians, while according to the Israeli CBS that number stands at 100,000.

What is especially disconcerting is the bottom line of the Palestinian Authority's report. "On the basis of the estimations presented by the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics in 2010, and provided that natural growth remains unchanged, the number of Palestinians and Jews will become equal and stand at 6.3 million [each] by the end of 2015," it said. "In addition, by 2020 the number of Palestinians living in historical Palestine will stand at 7.2 million people, while the number of Jews will stand at only 6.8 million."

One can only hope that in light of the meeting Tuesday between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's personal emissary Isaac Molho and chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat in Amman, that Netanyahu was exposed to this data. When I read through the report I was reminded of a briefing Netanyahu gave to diplomatic correspondents in Washington in September 2010, hours after the launch of the direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. Those negotiations lasted exactly three weeks before they collapsed.

Netanyahu spoke of the importance of attempting to reach an agreement with the Palestinians and also pointed out the issue of demographics. "We do not want to rule over one and a half million Palestinians in Judea and Samaria," he had said. A number of reporters then reminded him that the number stands at almost 2.5 million Palestinians. He nodded and continued speaking.

Netanyahu's words during that briefing represented the right-wing approach, according to which any demographic problem is far less serious than the picture that the Israeli left-wing is trying to paint. The "guru" at the head of this approach is Yoram Ettinger, who served at numerous posts in the Foreign Ministry in the past, including that of Minister for Congressional Affairs in Israel's embassy in Washington. Ettinger knows Netanyahu well, and the two have been in close contact for many years.

Ettinger actually read the Palestinian Authority's CBS report, but completely rejects it. He nicknamed the report "a misrepresentation of demographics". According to Ettinger, the Palestinians publish misleading reports every few years in order to scare Israel. He is sure the PA is "inflating" the numbers of Arabs in the West Bank by 1 million people. This is probably where Netanyahu got his 1.5 million Palestinians in the West Bank figure from. In Gaza, Ettinger asserts, the numbers are inflated by 300,000 people. Similarly, Ettinger points out, the Palestinians "inflate" their birth rate and ignore the sharp increase in Jewish demographics.

The chances that the meeting between Molho and Erekat in Amman this afternoon will not end in failure are slim. The chances that their meeting will lead to a renewal of the peace process are nil. Based on this depressing state of affairs, the demographic data of the Palestinian Authority's CBS are an even greater cause for concern.


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