Quickly now: Exactly how many Palestinians are there in the territories? At the CIA they claim they know: 3,761,904, of which 2,385,615 are in the West Bank and 1,376,289 in the Gaza Strip. One of them, Mohammed Dahlan, was invited to lecture this week at a study day that will be held on the Jordanian side of the Dead Sea for parliamentarians from NATO member countries.
The invitation of Dahlan, the minister of civil affairs in the administration of Mahmoud Abbas, reflects the creeping recognition of the Palestinian state that has not yet been established. Only countries are participating in NATO's Mediterranean Dialogue: Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Mauritania. In order to bypass this limitation, the NATO Parliamentary Assembly organizes meetings with these seven states and three additional invitees: Cyprus, Malta and the Palestinian Legislative Council, and Gaza as an island-state in the Mediterranean Sea. Among the other lecturers at the Dead Sea conference will be the European Union's Peace Envoy, Mark Ott, and the head of the Political Section of the U.S. Consulate in East Jerusalem, Christopher Stevens.
In recent years there has been stiff competition going on between NATO and the EU. At the EU they say that NATO is too military, that is to say, not political enough, and too influenced by Washington. In NATO they reply that the ability to represent the Americans as well is an asset and not a burden.
One of the signs of this struggle is the subversive effort by countries that are members of both organizations (France, Britian) to weaken NATO's tightening hold on the Middle East in favor of increasing the influence of the EU. Under pressure from the British, the French and the Belgians, Secretary General of NATO Jaap de Hoop Scheffer had his wings clipped before his visit to Israel in February, and the progress toward upgrading Israel's status in NATO was shackled with the handcuffs of balance with Arab elements - first Egypt, and now Palestine as well.
What they are saying in the CIA about the make-up of Palestine has international implications both with respect to the necessity for a political agreement and economic aid, and with respect to the domestic dispute inside Israel.
The data from the CIA, which last week published the 2005 edition of the CIA World Factbook, in fact line up in this dispute against the neo-demographers who are trying to understate the number of Palestinians.
And here are the facts, according to the CIA: Of all the Palestinians in the territories, nearly 1.6 million are refugees. Very nearly half of them are under the age of 14. For every Christian there are almost 10 Muslims. The reproduction rates: 3.77 percent in Gaza, 3.13 percent in the West Bank; 5.91 children per woman in Gaza, 4.4 in the West Bank. Life expectancy: 73 in the West Bank, less than 72 in Gaza.
By way of comparison, the population of Israel is 6,276,883. A bit more than one-quarter of the population is under the age of 14. Reproduction: 1.2 percent. Average number of children per woman: 2.44 (the internal distribution indicates that the immigration from Russia has tipped the balance back from the Sephardim to the Ashkenazim, if these terms are still applicable: 32 percent were born in Europe or America, 27 percent were born in Africa or Asia, 20 percent were born here. The greatest gap appears in the economy: 81 percent are below the poverty line in Gaza and 59 percent in the West Bank, as compared with 18 percent in Israel, according to the CIA.
In the territories there are 301,000 land-line telephones and 480,000 cellular phones, as compared to 3 million land-line phones and 6.3 million cellular phones in Israel. The GDP, weighted for purchasing power: $600 in Gaza, $800 in the West Bank $20,800 in Israel - the territories in their entirety are to the right of the comma in Israel.
Possibly a more appropriate yardstick would be Lebanon, where the size of the population is nearly identical to that of Palestine (3.826 million, among them hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees), and the GDP is $5,000, according to the CIA; and still, these are depressing figures that show that despite U.S. President George W. Bush, NATO and the EU, the chances for prosperity and peace will remain low even after the evacuation of the Jewish settlements in the territories.
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