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Are 1.4 million Palestinians missing? (UPI) VIA-WASHINGTON TIMES) By Joshua Brilliant - Jerusalem, Israel 02/01/05)Source: http://www.washingtontimes.com/upi-breaking/20050131-110755-4188r.htm UPI} UNITED PRESS INTERNATIONAL UPI} UNITED PRESS INTERNATIONAL Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
Jerusalem, Israel, Jan. 31 (UPI) -- Some 40,000 to 50,000 Palestinians followed their then-President Yasser Arafat to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip when he returned there in 1994 under the Oslo accords.

Many did not stay. They obtained Palestinian papers identifying themselves as local residents and returned with their families to Amman, for example.

Their new papers were a kind of insurance policy, recalled retired Israeli Brig. Gen. David Shachaf, who at that time headed the Israeli Civil Administration in the West Bank.

If they would be expelled from their countries of residence, as they had been from Kuwait three years earlier, they could return to the West Bank. "I know of senior officers (in the West Bank) who left their wives in Jordan and went there frequently to visit them," he added.

Their numbers are now a small part in the debate on one of the key issues affecting the Israeli-Palestinian dispute: How many Palestinians reside in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip?

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon cited their numbers as a reason for his decision to withdraw, unilaterally, from the Gaza Strip and parts of the northern West Bank. The withdrawal is scheduled for this summer.

A Palestinian state "is not the dream of my life," Sharon told his ministers in May 2003. But "Israel cannot, it would be wrong and unjustified, to continue ruling over 3.5 million Palestinians," he stated.

For decades Sharon headed Israel´s extensive settlement drive. Suddenly, it seemed he accepted the argument Israeli doves have been making all along: Israel cannot remain a Jewish-democratic state if it keeps the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. To remain a Jewish state, it would have to deny Palestinians the right to vote and risk being branded an apartheid state. If it grants the franchise, it can eventually forget about being a Jewish state.

Some left-wing parlor groups have suggested that the Palestinians wait to have a majority and then control all of historical Palestine, including what is now Israel, but they have no significant following. That idea "was always at the very fringe, never (accepted) by any serious organization," Arab Knesset Member Issam Makhoul of the predominantly Communist Democratic Front for Peace and Equality Party told UPI.

There is no doubt about the Jewish numbers.

According to the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics, 6.82 million residents lived in Israel at the end of 2004. Of those, 5.2 million (76 percent) were Jews, 1.3 million (20 percent) were Arabs, and 230,000 (or 4 percent) were non-Jews who came to Israel with their Jewish families.

There were also some 190,000 foreign workers in Israel, the bureau estimated.

The head of the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute, Hebrew University´s Prof. Sergio Della Pergola, maintained that was enough to question labeling Israel "a Jewish state."

"A Jewish state with 20 percent non-Jews is already a bi-national state," he said.

How many Palestinians, then, live in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip?

The answer depends on whom you ask.

According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics´ projection for last year, 3.8 million Palestinians lived there. (The figure is derived from adding 2.4 million Palestinians in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, to 1.4 million in the Gaza Strip, the PCBS said.)

However, these figures have been treated with caution. The head of the Ramallah-based Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, Prof. Khalil Shikaki, said the civil register Israel had given the Palestinians was not updated. There are no reliable figures on the number of deaths, nor on the number of people who left the area and did not return. Shikaki´s center, which is considered highly reliable, nevertheless works on the assumption that 3.6 million Palestinians live in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and some 200,000 Palestinians live in East Jerusalem.

Della Pergola estimated the West Bank and Gaza Strip population at 3.4 to 3.5 million.

Recently a group of American and Israeli Jews, some of whom support the settlers, completed a year´s study of the Palestinian data. They maintained that only 2.4 million Palestinians live in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Appearing before the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, and then before diplomats and foreign correspondents in Jerusalem, their leader Bennett Zimmerman said the Palestinian Health Ministry records show the Palestinian birth rate was "significantly below the level projected."

Zimmerman claimed the Palestinians upped their figures "to what the original projection was supposed to be ... and there is not more than a tenth of a percent difference."

An examination of border crossings showed that each year, since 1994, "there was a net emigration of people leaving their land. ... They (the Palestinians) expected 50,000 be coming in, and instead 10,000 are leaving," Zimmerman said.

If the Palestinian figures were true, then their rate of growth "would be greater than anything the Palestinian Authority has ever projected or said," he added.

A Senior Research Fellow at the International Policy Institute for Counter-Terrorism in Herzliya, Shalom Harari, suggested the Palestinians have always had an interest in inflating their numbers. With greater numbers, they expect more foreign aid.

The bottom line, according to Zimmerman´s group, is this: If Israel were to keep the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, there would be three Jews for every two Arabs. If it were to keep the West Bank alone, "you would have two Jews for every one Arab," he said.

A member of the team -- geographer Avraham Shvut, who is a strategic adviser to the settlers´ Samaria Regional Council -- concluded the Palestinians "would never" be a majority. One cannot just consider rates of birth and migration to estimate population growth, he said in an interview. "All those who made mathematical and statistical predictions in the past 100 years have erred," he added.

The group´s argument seemed to undermine Sharon´s case for a pullback, and the PCBS pounced on it.

"They are trying to misuse statistics for political purposes," Luay Shahabaneh, assistant to the PCBS´ President for Statistical Affairs told UPI. "They misused statistics on our Web site and made false assumptions," he charged.

Della Pergola told UPI: "There are problems, no doubt," with the PCBS. However, its president, Hassan Abu-Libdeh, "is no clown." He is a graduate of Cornell University who told his Israeli counterparts he wished to learn from them and bring the PCBS to their level.

"A Palestinian who tells you something like this is not a terrorist who just wants to kill you. He has a professionalism, at least a minimal one," Della Pergola said.

He maintained that Zimmerman´s figures on the Palestinian birthrate are "unrealistically low."

The Palestinian birthrate is, indeed, higher than in other Arab countries. It is a reaction to the political conflict, he said, and one can see the same phenomenon among some Jewish groups. All the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics projections about the Israeli- Arab birthrate, over years, turned out to be too low, he told UPI.

Israeli health standards have increased life expectancy and reduced infant mortality, he continued.

According to Della Pergola, 10.6 million people live in Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip - or, put differently, between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. Only 51 percent of them are Jews.

If one adds to the "Jewish side" the non-Jewish immigrants who came to Israel with their Jewish families, one gets a 53 or 54 percent Jewish majority.

On the other hand, the Palestinian population is younger.

There is "barely" a Jewish majority in the 15-24 age group, when Jews serve in the army and Palestinians fight in the intifada. There is a slight majority when adding the non-Jewish immigrants who serve in the army, "but soon it will be lost," Della Pergola added.

Israeli hardliners confronted with the demographic issue have often pinned their hopes on Jewish immigration, but Della Pergola maintained Israel has pretty much exhausted that source.

The Jews who lived in Arab countries are already in Israel. Those who wanted to come from the former Soviet Union and other Eastern European countries, and had been denied exit permits, have also come.

Last year some 20,000 new immigrants came to Israel, down from 23,000 in 2003, the Israeli CBS reported.

Most of the remaining Jews abroad live in affluent countries, and Della Pergola did not expect them to come to Israel unless they face a catastrophe. (Copyright 2005 United Press International 02/01/05)

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