Palestinians mull a majority
The Washington Times
February 27, 2008
By Joshua Mitnick - TEL AVIV — New population data have some Palestinians contemplating an unorthodox formula for Middle East peace — a single democratic nation of Arabs and Jews, in which Palestinians would be the majority.
"If Israel wants to call it Israel from Jordan to the Mediterranean, I accept it. So we'll be equal to them," said Saeb Erekat, a negotiator who has been at the center of negotiations to set up a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
"And with the majority, I will change the name of the Knesset to Parliament and the name of Israel to Palestine. It's a democracy," Mr. Erekat, a chief negotiator with Israel for more than a decade, told The Washington Times.
New population data show the demographic balance in Israel and the Palestinian territories has continued to shift in favor of Palestinians over the past decade, giving fresh urgency to warnings that the Bush administration's pursuit of a peace treaty by the end of this year may be the last gasp for a two-state solution.
According to the preliminary findings of a census conducted by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, the population in the West Bank and Gaza Strip surged by 30 percent over the past decade to 3.76 million. When 1.4 million Israeli Arabs are added, the total Palestinian population in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip is nearly 5.2 million, compared with a Jewish population of 5.8 million.
If trends continue, most demographers expect Arabs to outnumber Jews within five years.
The census, the second Palestinian count since getting autonomy in the 1990s, was conducted in November and December.
An Israeli demographic researcher said the numbers appeared reliable, and even lower than the initial population projections of the statistics bureau.
Hanna Siniora, co-chief executive officer of the Israel-Palestine Center for Research and Information, said that support for a single state is currently limited to Palestinian intellectuals. But that could grow depending on the outcome of the talks.
"The census indicates that there is a demographic issue, but the Israeli politicians are blind to it. They're doing nothing to resolve it, and time is running out," he said. "This is a year that either we make a breakthrough or the alternative is binational state."
Israelis who see their country as a homeland, where Jews exercise self-determination, consider that scenario untenable.
What's known in Hebrew as the "demographic problem" has created a consensus among the Israeli public of the need to create a separate Palestinian state.
"Basically, what we have here is a society which multiplies itself, every twenty years. And that's the problem," said Ephraim Sneh, a deputy minister from the Labor Party.
"The fact that we are not proceeding quick enough to a two-state solution, will bring us, God forbid, to a one-state solution, and that will bring us to the end of the Zionism."
One group of Israeli researchers, who have spent years trying to debunk the concept of a Palestinian demographic threat, charge that the Palestinian census is riddled with mistakes that distorts the true demographic picture.
Arguing that the 2007 census inflated Palestinian numbers by 53 percent, Yoram Ettinger, arrived at the opposite conclusion.
"There is no demographic machete at Israel's throat, and the demographic tailwind is Jewish, not Arab," he wrote in article published by the Israeli Web site Ynetnews.com.
A prominent Israeli demographer says that Mr. Ettinger and his research team are flat wrong.
Hebrew University's Sergio Della Pergola said the census findings were within his expectations, and even lower than the Palestinian forecasts.
"The pace of population growth there is significantly bigger than the population in Israel," he said.