Demographic Speculations

Via Powerline comes this remarkable Caroline Glick column about how the Palestinian Authority has been cooking its population numbers. These are the numbers that have fueled intense Israeli concern about how the Palestinian Arabs, though almost powerless against the Israelis militarily, might eventually overwhelm Israel demographically.

Glick argues that the Palestinians’ bogus population projections, by convincing a large and influential segment of Israeli opinion of the supposed peril awaiting Israel if it does not withdraw soon from Judea, Samaria and Gaza, have proven to be a much more effective weapon against Israel than have any military means. (Glick has long been critical of Sharon’s plan to withdraw Israeli forces from Gaza and forcibly relocate its Jewish residents.)

But now the conventional wisdom about Palestinian population growth has been turned on its head by the authors of this new report, which suggests that the PA’s numbers are significantly overstated.

The PCBS [Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics] forecast was further compared to Palestinian population surveys carried out by UNRWA and the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics (ICBS) in the mid-1990s, and to World Bank Palestinian population studies. All of the [report] team’s comparative analyses led to the conclusion that the Palestinian population forecasts upon which Israel is basing its current policy of withdrawal and uprooting of Israeli communities in the territories are faulty in the extreme.

The PCBS count includes the 230,000 Arab residents of Jerusalem. Yet these Arabs are already counted by the ICBS as part of Israel’s population, which means that they are counted twice.

The PCBS numbers also project Palestinian natural growth as 4 to 5 percent per year, among the highest in the world and significantly higher than the natural population growth of Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. Yet Palestinian Ministry of Health records published annually since 1996 show that Palestinian natural growth rates in Judea, Samaria and Gaza average around 3 percent. In 2002, the Palestinian Ministry of Health retroactively raised its numbers and yet even the doctored figures never extended beyond 3.7 percent. The original data show a steady pattern of decrease in natural growth leading to a natural growth rate in 2003 of just 2.6 percent.

Indeed, the total fertility rate of Palestinian women has been trending downward in recent years. Palestinian women in Judea and Samaria averaged 4.1 children in 1999 and 3.4 in 2003. Palestinian women in Gaza averaged 5 children each in 1999 and 4.7 in 2003. The multi-year average of Israel’s compound growth rate from 1990-2004 is 2.5 percent. And even as Israel’s growth rate went down to 1.7 percent between 2000 and 2004, a similar decline occurred among Palestinians in Gaza, where growth decreased from 3.9 percent to 3.0 percent, and Palestinians in Judea and Samaria, where growth declined from 2.7 percent to 1.8 percent.

The PCBS also projected a net population increase of 1.5 percent per year as a result of immigration from abroad. But the study’s authors found that except for 1994, when the bulk of the Palestinian leadership and their families entered the areas from abroad, emigration from the Palestinian areas has outstripped immigration every year.

[and so on]

I have long been skeptical of alarmist demographic projections for the Palestinians, so the above-mentioned report doesn’t surprise me. The alarmist interpretations rarely seem to take into account either the likelihood of declining birth rates with increases in wealth or the observation that alarmist predictions tend to be wrong in general (it’s human nature).

What is at least as interesting is whether alarmist demographic projections for Muslim populations in Europe may be subject to adjustments comparable to the one that’s now being made for the Palestinian population. It seems likely that European demographic statistics are more accurate than those produced by the Palestinian Authority. However, is there any reason not to expect European Muslim birth rates to decline as European Muslims become wealthier and more integrated, even if not completely integrated, into European societies? And is it inconceivable that non-Muslim European birth rates will start to increase at some point during the decades-long period for which demographic predictions are made?

I am not arguing that current alarmist projections are necessarily wrong. I am arguing that long-range projections of complex social phenomena, extrapolated from statistical snapshots of recent trends, tend to be inaccurate and are a weak basis for policy decisions. Generally, the more dramatic the prediction, the more skeptically it should be treated.

4 thoughts on “Demographic Speculations”

  1. Of course an overstated population also means that GDP per capita in the territories is understated – things are not as bad as they seem and may alos help to attract aid.

  2. You don’t need the long-range projections to exactly right to realize that it is still stupid for Israel to stay in those places. Those territories have now and always will have a majority population which is unremittingly hostile to Israel. The Israelis should wall off the Pals, bring in foreign workers, and give the whole thing 50 years to cool off. Abbas is just as much of a terrorist as Arafat, and the sad fact is that anybody electable by the Palestinians will be a terrorist. They, not surprisingly, want ALL their land back. The Israelis won’t give it to them. There is no “peace” to be had on that basis. An armed truce is not even achievable. But a defensible perimter is achievable. A wall coupled with preemptive strikes into Pal territory as needed, will provide a perimeter which is defensible. The Israelis have neither the manpower, the wealth, the will, nor the guarantee of ongoing American support which they would need to remain colonial overlords of these Palestinian-majority territories.

    Martin van Creveld’s new book on this subject is totally convincing.

    Also, I have read and do not like Caroline Glick. I read one thing by her where she was saying it is wrong to ask the Jews who live in Gaza to leave there, and saying, why should Jews leave just because they are Jews. That is a stupid and wrong way to put it. The real question is, why should other Jews spend their blood and treasure forever to allow people to live in a place where they are a hated minority? If the Israeli government did not expend a fortune on defending these outposts, their populations would be torn limb from limb by the Palestinians immediately. The real question is, for how long should Israel expend precious live, treasure, and political capital, on the pointless and counterproductive gesture of trying to settle these places? Without the Israeli presence in these territories, the Palestinians will still attempt terrorism, but will find it harder and harder to pull off. They will eventually have no options but trying to clean up their own act. But it will take decades. In the meantime, a defensive and defensible posture for the Israelis is the only sensible cours.

  3. I really like the reassuring sanity of: “Generally, the more dramatic the prediction, the more skeptically it should be treated.”

  4. Imagine if someone on September 10, 2001, had predicted an airborne terror attack on the next day, with thousands of dead resulting, and major parts of the US financial and military infrastructure turned into ruins? No one would have believed it. Just because a prediction is dramatic is no reason to dismiss it.

    Instead, we need to trash politically correct obstacles that prevent us from studying meaningful sociological trends objectively.

    Something about the Islam of the current times produces fanatical suicide bombers and suicidally fanatical murderers. We need to be studying that phenomenon, including how it applies to Palestinians and other muslims.

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