More Arabs than Jews inhabit Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, according to an official from Israel’s military-run civil administration.
Speaking before the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee on Monday, Colonel Haim Mendez told legislators that five million Palestinians live in the West Bank and Gaza Strip while another 1.8 million Arabs live inside Israel.
This puts the tally of Palestinians at about 6.8 million, in contrast to 6.5 million Jewish citizens of Israel.
Citing figures from the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS), Mendes said the number of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza does not include residents of East Jerusalem, who fall under Israeli jurisdiction.
“The Palestinian CBS has three million listed as residents of Judea and Samaria today. We estimate that there are actually 2.5 to 2.7 million Palestinians, because dead people are still registered, and because of emigration to countries around the world. For example, a Palestinian born in Brazil, who lived there his whole life, can still register and receive a Palestinian passport,” Mendes said.
The presentation set off fierce debate about the authenticity of the numbers reported given their Palestinian provenance.
Avi Dichter, Israel’s foreign affairs and defence committee chairman, expressed surprise at the numbers presented and asked that these be verified.
“This is a totally new figure, which is very significant and surprising … If it’s accurate, it’s surprising and disconcerting,” he said.
“If it’s not accurate, then we want to know the accurate figure, of course.”
Moti Yogev, a Knesset member of the far right Jewish Home party, dismissed the report as inaccurate, reflecting the scepticism other parliamentarians had shown vis-à-vis the study.
“Unfortunately, COGAT [the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories] is not fulfilling its responsibility to count and know how many Palestinians are in Judea and Samaria, or at least in Area C which is under its authority,” he said.
Yogev, who heads the subcommittee for Judea and Samaria, said the numbers did not add up since there are ten times more births than deaths reported, a life expectancy he says “doesn’t exist anywhere in the world”.
Ahmed Tibi, an Arab member of Israel’s knesset, said on Twitter the numbers did not surprise him, adding that “whoever destroys the two-state vision must decide: either one democratic state with equal rights or an apartheid state”.
Demography has long been the site of a battle between the two people as it could affect the outcome of peace negotiations and alter the national narrative of both parties.
Proponents of Zionism have argued that a one-state solution with an Arab majority could jeopardise the very nature of its Jewish polity.
Amir Peretz, former defence minister and leader of the centre-left Zionist Union party, said only an independent Palestinian state could guarantee a Jewish, democratic state.
“Whether there are two or three million Palestinians in Judea and Samaria, it’s clear that at this rate Israel will not remain a Jewish state, and we are moving towards a one-state solution,” he said.
“Only separating into two states will ensure security and economic growth in a democratic state with a Jewish majority”.
Ayman Odeh, Arab member of the parliament, echoed Peretz’s sentiment on Twitter.
” […] the crossroads where we presently find ourselves is clear: either two states based on 1967, or one state that is an apartheid state, or one democratic state in which everyone has the right to vote,” he said.
“There is no other option, and at least this simple truth has to be stated clearly.”
Representative Ofer Shelah of the centrist Yesh Atid party said Israel must part ways with the Palestinians to save the Zionist “vision” of a Jewish society.
“If we don’t separate from the Palestinians, Israel will not be able to be Jewish, if we annex Judea and Samaria, or democratic if we continue ruling over them without rights …We must separate or endanger the Zionist vision.”