Congress today will be presented with a new study that documents the Palestinians have inflated their population numbers by over 50 percent and that almost $3 billion in United States taxpayer funds may have been provided as aid to the Palestinians in part based on fraudulent data.

“American tax dollars and other international humanitarian aid have been based on inflated population numbers which have been accepted without question by governments and aid agencies. Our researchers pointed out that money has been spent to help Palestinians who were double-counted, never born or not present in the West Bank and Gaza,” Bennet Zimmerman, head of the new study, titled “Arab Population in the West Bank and Gaza,” told WND.

Zimmerman led a team of researchers who found Palestinians have inflated their population by close to 1.5 million, in some cases counting people in some cities twice. He was invited to testify today at a House International Relations Subcommittee on the Middle East chaired by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., probing U.S. assistance to the Palestinian Authority.

Since 1994, the United States has reportedly given nearly $1.8 billion in direct aid to the PA and nongovernmental organizations operating in the Palestinian territories, usually delineated through the U.S. Agency for International Development. America has also provided more than $1.1 billion to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which oversees Palestinian refugee camps in the West Bank and Gaza, according to State Department records.

U.S. assistance to the Palestinians last year alone reportedly totaled $282 million.

American aid to the PA and Palestinian-related agencies, especially to refugee organizations, is devised largely based on Palestinian population figures, a State Department spokesperson said.

Both the U.S. and Israel have based their information regarding the Palestinian population on numbers provided by the PA’s Central Bureau of Statistics, which claims a total population in the West Bank and Gaza of 3.8 million.

But the new study, led by Zimmerman and researchers Roberta Seid and Michael Wise, puts 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.

The study compared the accepted PA data to Palestinian voting records, birth and death records published annually by the PA’s Health Ministry, immigration and emigration data from Israel’s Border Control, internal migration of Palestinians from the territories into Israel recorded by the Israeli Interior Ministry and others, Israeli Civil Administration population studies, U.N. population surveys, and surveys conducted by the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics and the World Bank.

Zimmerman’s team found extreme faults in the methods used by the PA to determine its population, including counting the 230,000 Arab residents of Jerusalem twice and retroactively raising growth and birth rates, which the study contends have been declining.

The PA claims a natural 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 claims by stating growth rates averaging around 3 percent.

Zimmerman’s study documents the PA tampered with its own data, retroactively raising its growth numbers in 2002. The new study shows a steady pattern of growth decline leading to a natural growth rate in 2003 of just 2.6 percent.

The PA has documented rises in Palestinian fertility rates – the number of children per woman – but Zimmerman’s study found a dramatic decrease from 7.4 in 1997 to 3.89 in 2003. Palestinian women in the West Bank averaged 4.1 children in 1999 and 3.4 in 2003, and women in Gaza averaged 5 children each in 1999 and 4.7 in 2003.

The PA also projected a net population increase of 1.5 percent per year as a result of immigration from surrounding countries. But Zimmerman’s researchers found that except for 1994, when the bulk of the Palestinian leadership and their families entered the territories from Tunis, Palestinian emigration from the area has outweighed immigration by a net negative of about 10,000 per year.

“The U.S. and Europeans have for years accepted entirely exaggerated data,” Zimmerman said. “Now Congress has some very tough questions to ask, including how its own State Department and the CIA could have been duped and what do to regarding future aid.”

Ros-Lehtinen recently drafted legislation along with Tom Lantos, D-Calif., calling for a halt to U.S. assistance to the PA following Hamas’ victory in January’s Palestinian elections.

The United States and Israel have been leading an international push to politically and financially isolate the new Hamas government.

The PA has for years depended on U.S. and European aid to pay salaries for its nearly 150,000 employees, totaling about $90 million per month.

While most European countries have expressed support for isolating Hamas, Israeli officials fear substantial cracks in a united international front, particularly following the terror group’s visit to Russia last week.

In response to international attempts to isolate his government, Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Zahar claimed last month his terror group doesn’t need “satanic” American money.

“Those who built their structure on the basis of the Quran … cannot budge because of promises from America or a dollar from Europe. I wish America would cut off its aid. We do not need this satanic money,” al-Zahar said at a news conference in Cairo.

But al-Zahar took quite a different tone in a WND interview just prior to the Palestinian elections in which he outright lobbied for U.S. money.

“Without any condition we are accepting any money and we are ready to put these figures in the proper way and in a purified manner. Anybody can follow this money, can observe and account, do anything to be sure that we are running our system without corruption,” al-Zahar said in response to a question about whether he would accept American aid.

Al-Zahar, whose group has openly funded and carried out over 60 suicide bombings and hundreds of rocket and shooting attacks against Israelis, said he would use American money to build “factories, agriculture and [other] real investments in the Palestinian people.”

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