Arabs nearly equal Jews in historical Palestine

Jewish extremists accuse Israeli demographer of ‘relying on Palestinian figures’

Occupied Jerusalem: Israel’s leading demographics expert on Tuesday defended military figures indicating the number of Arabs will soon equal that of Jews in the Holy Land (historical Palestine) – figures that had sparked outrage from nationalist lawmakers in parliament.

Sergio Della Pergola, a demographer from occupied Jerusalem’s Hebrew University, said the numbers of Arabs and Jews are nearly equal when you factor in the population of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and occupied east Jerusalem along with the population of Israel.

Jews make up about 80 per cent of the Zionist state, and advocates of a two-state solution have long warned the country risks losing its Jewish majority if a Palestinian state is not established alongside it.

Short of that, they warn, the Israeli regime will be faced with a daunting choice between becoming a binational state or one in which Arabs and other minorities “do not have equal rights”.

Della Pergola said there are currently about 6.9 million Jews in the Holy Land – including Israel and the Occupied Territories – compared to 6.5 million Arabs. He said the gap was likely to be closed completely within 15-20 years.

“These are the figures. You can either accept them or not,” he told The Associated Press. “For some, it may be uncomfortable so they say they are inaccurate but truthfully that is quite childish.”

Nationalist lawmakers assailed a senior military officer, Col. Haim Mendes, in parliament on Monday for saying there were nearly 5 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, accusing him of inflating the numbers. Mendes is a high ranking official in COGAT, the Israeli occupation regime’s “defence body” for Palestinian civilian affairs.

Avi Dichter, a lawmaker from the ruling Likud Party and chairman for the Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee, called the figure “surprising” and asked for clarification.

Motti Yogev, a lawmaker from the pro-colonist Jewish Home party, went a step further, accusing the official of relying on Palestinian figures and demanding that the true numbers be revealed.

Such data undermines the prevailing thought of the current government, which has largely ruled out the concept of a Palestinian state and dismisses the demographic threat.

Della Pergola said he could respect the opposing ideologies but that the figures themselves should not be questioned. He said COGAT had the best grasp of the situation on the ground.

He added that while Jewish birth rates were catching up with those of Arabs, mostly due to the high fertility rates among ultra-Orthodox Jews, the Arab population was much younger and therefore dying at a slower rate.

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