HERZLIYA, Israel – Acting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in a national address here yesterday announced his administration will push for a Palestinian state and Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank, saying Arabs might soon outnumber Jews and threaten Israel’s Jewish character unless the Palestinians quickly are offered a state of their own.
His announcement comes amid a new study presented this week, which contends Olmert’s withdrawal policy is based on erroneous data and predicts that in 20 years Jews will outnumber Arabs by two-to-one.
“Olmert needs to immediately redo his forecasts and look at the accurate data,” said Bennet Zimmerman, leader of an American research team that released a highly regarded population study earlier this week at Israel’s prestigious Herzliya Conference.
“Israel is relying on false Palestinian population statistics and outdated Jewish birth rates to act on unrealistic doomsday scenarios when in actuality Israel has a strong, unthreatened Jewish population for at least the next 20 years. There is no demographic reason whatsoever to withdraw from the West Bank,” he said.
The conference is used annually by the prime minister to deliver a speech expected to set the government’s major policies and agendas for the coming year. In 2001, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon announced at the conference his plan to evacuate Jewish communities from the Gaza Strip.
Olmert, leading overwhelmingly in most polls ahead of March’s national elections, delivered the conference’s closing speech last night in which he urged a West Bank withdrawal for reasons of Palestinian demography.
“The choice between allowing Jews to live in all parts of the land of Israel and living in a state with a Jewish majority mandates giving up parts of the land of Israel,” Olmert said. “We cannot continue to control parts of the territories where most of the Palestinians live.”
Olmert said under his West Bank withdrawal plan, Israel will maintain select security zones and some of the area’s major West Bank Jewish communities, alluding to evacuating West Bank towns that fall outside Israel’s security fence.
About 200,000 Jews live in the West Bank.
The security fence, still under construction in certain areas, cordons off nearly 95 percent of the territory from Israel’s pre-1967 borders. More than half the West Bank’s Jewish residents reside on the side of the fence closest to Israel. About 80,000 more Jews live on the other side of the barrier.
Olmert said he is seeking a West Bank withdrawal to “[set] the permanent borders of the state of Israel to ensure a Jewish majority.”
However, Zimmerman’s new study, titled “Forecast for Israel and the West Bank 2025,” states a West Bank withdrawal based on demography is groundless because Israel’s Jews will more than double Arabs in 20 years.
The study found Palestinians have inflated their population by as much as 1.5 million. It also said Jewish birthrates are far outstripping Palestinian rates, and Israel’s own statistics fail to account for even low levels of Jewish immigration when calculating national demographic trends.
The study used numbers documented last year, which placed the current Palestinian-Arab population of the West Bank at 1.4 million and Gaza 1.1 million, for a total of 2.4 million instead of the 3.8 million reported by the Palestinian Authority Central Bureau of Statistics.
Zimmerman’s team, comprised in part by researchers Roberta Seid and Michael Wise, found faults in the methods used by the PA to determine its population, including counting the 230,000 Arab residents of Jerusalem twice.
The PA claims a natural population growth rate of 4 to 5 percent per year, among the highest in the world, but Palestinian Ministry of Health records published annually since 1996 contradict the PA’s own claim and instead claim actual growth rates averaging around 3 percent.
Zimmerman’s study shows how the PA tampered with its own data, retroactively raising growth rates in 2002. His study also shows a steady pattern of decline leading to a natural growth rate in 2003 of just 2.6 percent.
The study also found a dramatic and growing decline in the number of children per Palestinian mother and says Palestinians actually have been moving away from the West Bank and Gaza in contrast to PA claims of large immigration numbers.
At the same time, Zimmerman’s team has shown birthrates among Israeli Orthodox Jews are at the highest rates ever, and general Israeli Jewish fertility over the past 5 years has risen above top scenarios first considered by Israel’s Bureau of Statistics. The study states Israel did not account for a likely continuation of Jewish immigration trends over the next 20 years.
The allegedly inflated PA population numbers have been accepted by Israel and were used in formulating future demographic statistics, including those outlined in Olmert’s address.
The PA information also was adopted by such prominent Israeli demographers as the University of Haifa’s Arnon Soffer and the Hebrew University’s Sergio Della Pergola, who both famously warned that by 2020 Jews will make up between 40 and 46 percent of the population in both Israel and the territories.
Under Zimmerman’s mid-case scenario, however, Israeli Jews maintain current fertility rates and immigration averages of 20,000 per year or 400,000 over two decades. Israeli Arab fertility rates, meanwhile, fall slowly over a 20 year period. The result is a Jewish majority in Israel in 2025 of 63 percent.
According to other likely scenarios contained in the new data, Jews could outnumber Arabs by 71 percent if Jewish fertility rates continue to rise and immigration increases further.
“It is ironic that just as we now find Israel is in the best position ever with regard to population, Olmert announces a plan to run away and give up the West Bank, claiming Israel’s Jewish character is threatened,” said Zimmerman.
Some Israeli critics, a few of whom have been associated with Israel’s liberal parties, have been slamming Zimmerman’s breakthrough study. Della Pergola, who conducted previous studies in Israel upholding the PA claims, called Zimmerman’s findings “groundless,” politically slanted and baseless from a research perspective. He slammed some of the credentials of Zimmerman’s researchers.
But the study has been lauded by esteemed American demographers Nicholas Eberstadt and Murray Feshbach, among others.
Several high-level Israeli politicians, including a previous member of Sharon’s cabinet, told WorldNetDaily they found the new study credible.
“This changes major previous assumptions, and it must result in an immediate debate as to the wisdom of our rushing into certain arrangements and solutions for the Palestinian problem,” the former cabinet minister said.