Joel Mowbray

Although Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has now disavowed peace talks with new Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, it is a sure bet that the ?international community? will pressure Israel by raising the specter of surging Palestinian population figures that will soon leave Jews outnumbered between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.

But a new demographic study released this week could change all that.  

An eight-person team has found that the actual number of residents in Gaza and the West Bank is nearly one and a half million fewer than the published population of 3.8 million?and they derived much of that number from Palestinian figures.

By any standard, the official tally of 3.8 million Palestinians is a breathtaking number.  Both Israel and the then-new Palestinian Authority (PA) agreed in 1996 that the population was roughly 2 million?which would mean that the number of people living in Gaza and the West Bank has nearly doubled in eight short years.

During the same time frame, however, birth rates have declined all across the Arab world?except for Palestinians.  Standard of living for ordinary Palestinians is easily among the highest in Arab world, which should mean that their birth rates would be among the lowest in the region, not the highest. 

As improbable as the official PA population figures are, they have not been challenged until now.  The United States, the European Union, the United Nations, and even Israel have all accepted the claim that 3.8 million Palestinians live in the territories.  And all have used that ?fact,? to varying degrees, to argue that Israel needs to have a separate Palestinian state and pronto.

It seems the only ones who knew that the population figures were bogus were the Palestinian leaders themselves.  It was from analyzing numbers released by various Palestinian agencies, in fact, that the researchers discovered that the published count of 3.8 million was severely inflated.

The biggest chunk of the 1.4 million-person gap comes from two ?revisions? made by the PA, first in 1997, and then in 2002.  This was the cornerstone of efforts to show strength in numbers, since even the PA largely concurred with Israel?s count of just over 2 million Palestinians in 1996.  Israel had run all hospitals and schools and had issued ID cards to all adults, so that figure had solid foundations.

Joel Mowbray

Joel Mowbray, who got his start with, is an award-winning investigative journalist, nationally-syndicated columnist and author of Dangerous Diplomacy: How the State Department Threatens America's Security.

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