Yoram Ettinger, diplomat and co-founder of the American Israel Demographic Research Group (AIDRG), spoke to a May 9th Middle East Forum Webinar (video) about the "demographic balance between Jews and the Arabs in the combined area of the pre-1967 lines of Israel and Judea and Samaria" (a.k.a. the West Bank).
Ettinger said policymakers, as well as the public, are under the "misperception" that the Arab fertility rate will enable the Arabs to demographically overwhelm Israel. This misperception is "very much different from reality." Ettinger's AIDRG demographic study beginning in 2004 documented that the Palestinian numbers of "Arabs in Judea, Samaria and Arabs in Gaza" are "artificially inflated," and that the "Jewish demographic momentum" over the last three decades is being ignored. Ettinger's study "does not accept the Palestinian numbers at face value." Instead, his group conducted a thorough audit of the "demographic data published by the Palestinians and Israel" and published its own findings.
When conducting a census, Ettinger said that global international practice is to deduct "permanent residents who are away for over a year" from such a count. The director of the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS) does not adhere to this rule. Accordingly, the first census taken in 1997 included 325,000 people who have been "away for over a year." By 2004, the Palestinians claimed "200,000 eligible voters" were "residing outside the country." Ettinger said that meant that currently there are "500,000 overseas residents" whose growth since 1997 is due to births. Ettinger said "the bottom line ... in 2022 ... half a million who have been away for a year from Judea and Samaria but are counted as if they are there."
In 2006, the World Bank studied birth and education records in Judea, Samaria, and in Gaza. The PCBS reported to the World Bank that from 1995 to 2006, there was a 24% increase in six-year-old first graders. However, the World Bank study found that there was an 8% decline, a "32% gap between the real number and the contended number" the Palestinians claimed. In another example, Ettinger said the "net immigration" claimed by the Palestinians is actually "net emigration." Thus, from 1950 through 2021, the Palestinian Authority (PA) "[did] not consider net immigration" in their count, but Ettinger's group found that there has been "some 17,000 annual net emigration away from Judea and Samaria." The PA says that "net migration [is] zero ... as long as they do not control international passages." What they choose to ignore is that net emigration over time has amounted to 370,000.
Jerusalem has approximately 350,000 Arabs who are "either Israeli citizens or permanent residents of Israel." Israel counts them among the "segment of Arabs in Israel," but the PA counts them as Palestinians, which means they are double-counted and "they too multiply on a daily basis due to birth." There are also 150,000 Arabs from Judea, Samaria, and Gaza, who are married to Israeli Arabs and are "also doubly counted."
Ettinger said that, given the combined population numbers of pre-1967 Israel, Judea and Samaria, the 7.5 million Jews residing in these territories constitute a 68% Jewish majority. His team includes the 400,000 [Christian] immigrants from the Soviet Union as part of the "Jewish sector in Israel." Setting aside the inflated numbers from the irregular categories the PA claims, Ettinger said the actual count is seven and a half million in the Jewish sector and two million Arabs in pre-1967 Israel, Judea and Samaria. As to the Arabs in Judea and Samaria alone, the actual number is a million and a half Arabs, not the three million the Palestinians claim.
Ettinger's study reveals the growth in the number of Jews has shown a "positive ... rather than negative trend." This trend is attributable to their "fertility rate." Dispelling another misperception, Ettinger said that in the 1960s, the birth gap favored Arab women, but in 2015, the fertility rates for Arab and Jewish women were equal. Since 2015, the Jewish fertility rate in pre-1967 Israel is higher than that of Arabs in the same geographic area. In 2021, there was a 76% increase in the annual number of Jews born, while Arab births within pre-1967 Israel showed increased by 20%.
Although Israel's secular Jewish population doubled from 1990 through 2021, the ultra-Orthodox population increased at a slower rate. The latter experienced a slight decrease in their fertility rate which Ettinger attributes to their "growing integration into the job market ... as well as integration into higher education."
He also pointed out that Israel is an exception because in "every other Western society ... you have negative correlation," i.e., the higher the education level and income, the lower the fertility rate. Ettinger said this occurred among all the varied denominations of Jews in Israel because the people are extremely optimistic, patriotic, and deeply rooted in their attachment to the Jewish state. Moreover, they share a "frontier mentality and ... community responsibility." When all these traits are present, "you produce more children."
As to why the Palestinians would artificially inflate their census numbers, Ettinger explained that politically, the strategy of the Palestinian Arabs is that, by manipulating their numbers, they will sap the Israeli will by implying that they will defeat the Jewish state demographically. Internally, west of the Jordan River, the Arab's first loyalty is not the state, but to the "hamula," the large families of their tribal, ethnic, and religious group. Inflating the numbers "enhance[s] their ... stature." Financially, larger population numbers mean "more money from UNRWA [United Nations Relief Works Agency] ... more money from the European countries ... more foreign aid from the U.S. ... more water from Israel." Ettinger said that, considering the "political, financial, strategic reasons for inflating numbers" that constitute Palestinian misinformation, it "behooves anyone who wishes to be acquainted with reality and not to submit oneself to misperceptions ... to be educated on the facts on the ground."
Marilyn Stern is communications coordinator at the Middle East Forum.