Palestinian population fast approaching that of Israeli Jews


The land between the Mediterranean and river Jordan will be majority Palestinian from 2015, writes MICHAEL JANSEN

THE PALESTINIAN population in “historic Palestine” will equal the Jewish population before 2015, according to projections released by the Palestinian Bureau of Statistics.

The bureau said Palestinian inhabitants of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza currently total 4.1 million while Palestinian citizens of Israel amount to 1.4 million. This gives a total of 5.5 million Palestinians, approaching the 5.8 million for Israeli Jews.

Due to a higher Palestinian birth rate – 32.8 per 1,000 – as compared to the Jewish Israeli birth rate – 26.2 per 1,000 – the bureau said the “number of Palestinians will reach the number of Jewish residents by the end of 2014, around 6.1 million, at the current growth rate”.

Thereafter, the land between the Mediterranean sea and the Jordan river will not only become a Palestinian majority area but this majority will grow.

Since immigration numbers almost equal those for emigration, the Palestinian figure has not been affected by the 7,000 Palestinians, mostly men between the ages of 15-29, who leave annually. The lure of education, better living conditions and improved job opportunities pushed 32,000 young men to depart between 2005-09. However, during this period an estimated 30,411 returned, the highest number being 7,077 in 2009.

Palestinian migrants tend to return home because great importance is placed by the Palestinian community on “steadfastness”, they have few opportunities to settle abroad, and they do not want to become permanent exiles. The number of Palestinian refugees was set at 5.6 million, most living in Arab countries.

The latest statistics issued by the Israeli government show that the population of Israel minus the Palestinian territories, is 7.7 million, 75.4 per cent Jewish, 20.4 per cent Palestinian, and 4.2 per cent foreigners.

Israel’s figures are 5.8 million for Jewish and 1.5 million for Palestinian citizens.

While Israel’s population growth rate of 1.9 per cent remains steady, it is significant that during 2010 Israel absorbed only 16,000 immigrants. Of these 6,000 were born abroad to Israeli parents and 4,000 moved to Israel on family reunification schemes. This means that only 6,000 are new Jewish immigrants, suggesting that immigration has slowed while emigration has accelerated, particularly over the last decade.

US Census Bureau figures show that more than 140,000 US residents were born in Israel, a 30 per cent increase over the number in 2000 when Israeli residents totalled 109,720. Of those currently living in the US, 90,179 have US citizenship.

However, the US official figures are questioned by Israeli official sources and media. According to the Israeli consulate in New York, as many as 600,000 Israelis now live in the US. This figure indicates that the number of Israelis who migrate to the US is larger than that of US citizens moving to Israel – which was, according to the Jewish Agency, 23,640 from 2000-2009 – an average of 2,300 a year.

The discrepancies between US and Israeli figures are explained by differences over who is considered an Israeli. Neither Soviet-born Jews who went first to Israel and then settled in the US nor children born to Israeli residents of the US are necessarily considered to be Israeli citizens by the US Census Bureau.

Some Israelis contend that since Israel withdrew its settlers and soldiers from Gaza in 2005, the narrow coastal strip with its Palestinian population should be excluded from the equation.

However, Palestinians point out that Gaza is indisputably part of “historic Palestine”. Furthermore, the international community considers that the strip is not only occupied Palestinian territory but also remains firmly under Israeli domination through its control of land, air and sea access.

Other Israelis, including former prime minister Ehud Olmert, hold that the high Palestinian birth rate is a “demographic time bomb” set to rob Israel of its Jewish majority. They argue that the only way for Israel to remain a democratic Jewish state is to reach a deal for a two-state solution.

Mr Olmert insists that unless such a peace settlement is reached Israel would have to embrace the one-state solution, where Jews and Palestinians would have equal rights, or become an apartheid state, where a Jewish minority will dominate a restive Palestinian majority.