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The Politics of Palestinian Demography

Diplomats, CENTCOM commanders, and now President Obama have cited demography and, more precisely, the growing Palestinian population in the West Bank and Gaza, as a reason why two states must come now rather than later. “The fact is, a growing number of Palestinians live west of the Jordan River,” Obama explained.

Certainly, demography should be a concern if Israel is to remain both democratic and a Jewish state. So much of the demography that’s floating around, however, is little more than junk statistics. When I was editor of the Middle East Quarterly, we published “The Politics of Palestinian Demography,” a must-read article by Yakov Fatelson, who looks at the statistics the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics provides and which many Americans accept at face value. The problem is that the Palestinian Authority lets politics influence its numbers. Their Central Bureau of Statistics isn’t allowed to report Palestinian emigration, double-counts Jerusalem (which is also counted by Israel), and has made revisions at the request of the Palestinian leadership when the population in Jerusalem, for example, was found to have declined. The error today may exceed one million people throughout areas claimed by the Palestinian Authority.

In computer science, the old quip is “garbage in, garbage out.” When it comes to policy based on bad numbers, the same adage applies.


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