The Israeli army presented data on Monday to a Knesset panel which show that more Arabs than Jews live between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River.
According to Civil Administration's deputy commander Col. Haim Mendes, five million Palestinians live in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. This figure does not include the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians living in East Jerusalem, or the 1.8 million Israeli Arabs. According to Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics, as of September 2017 some 6.5 Jews live in Israel.
The data presented by Mendes at a session of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee is based on figures compiled by the Palestinian Bureau of Statistics. The reliability of the bureau's data has been questioned in the past, and Israeli security services usually refrain from relying on it.
Right-wing lawmakers who attended the session claimed that the data was false and said Mendes did not present a document supporting it. The committee therefore has asked the Civil Administration to produce such a document.
The figures presented by Mendes exhibit a significant increase in the number of Palestinians living between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River. In May 2012, an official document prepared at the Civil Administration said 2.7 million Palestinians were living in the West Bank – a 29 percent increase since 2000.
MK Moti Yogev (Habayit Hayehudi), who heads the Subcommittee for Judea and Samaria, claimed during the discussion that Mendes is inflating the numbers, since according to Yogev, in 2017 "about 80,000 newborns and 8,000 deceased were reported – a life expectancy that doesn't exist anywhere in the world."
The differences of opinion on the issue reflect a passionate dispute regarding the number of Palestinians living in the territories. A group of researchers called the American-Israel Demographic Research Group tried in the past to prove that the Palestinians have managed with great sophistication to add about 1 million additional people to their number by 2012. According to them, 1.5 million Palestinians lived in the West Bank that year, a far lower number than that presented by the Civil Administration.
Although the group's claims are not supported by demography experts in Israel and abroad, it was very popular with right-wing spokespersons and politicians. In their view, time and demography are working in Israel's favor rather than that of the Palestinians, and they conclude that if the number of Palestinians in the West Bank is relatively low, and the demographic demon is nonexistent, there is no need to enter negotiations about the establishment of a Palestinian state, and the time has come to discuss how to annex the territories and the residents.
MK Ayman Odeh, head of the Joint List in response tweeted that, "Between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean there is an equal number of Palestinians and Jews, and that's nothing new. That's why 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. There is no other option, and at least this simple truth has to be stated clearly."