The number of Palestinians living in Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip is expected to rise to equal the number of Jews in the same area by the end of 2017, at 6.58 million, the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics claimed in figures it released on Thursday.

Titled “Palestinians at the end of 2016” (Arabic and English) the report estimated that there are 6.41 million Palestinians living in “historical Palestine” — considered by the PCBS to be the area from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, a figure that apparently includes the 1.8 million Arab Israelis.

The PCBS has been responsible for providing Israel with demographic data for the West Bank since the 1993 Oslo Accords. The Israel Defense Forces also relies on the figures.

Citing an Israel Central Bureau of Statistics report, the PCBS put the number of Jewish Israelis at the end of 2015 at 6.33 million, with a prediction that figure would reach 6.45 million by the end of 2016.

Table by Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics

Table by Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics

“The number of Palestinians and Israelis will be equal at the end of 2017,” the PCBS report said, using the term “Israelis” to refer only to Jewish citizens of Israel. “However, the number of Palestinians in historical Palestine will total 7.12 million compared to 6.96 million Israelis by the end of 2020.”

“By the end of 2020, Israelis will make up 49.3% of the total population: there will be 6.96 million Israelis compared to 7.12 million Palestinians.”

Other statistics it presented showed there are 4.88 million Palestinians living in “the State of Palestine” — a reference to the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem.

Palestinian children pose for a photo on top of cement blocks placed by the Israeli army in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Ras al Amud, on October 21, 2015. Photo by Hadas Parush/Flash90

Palestinian children pose on top of cement blocks placed by the Israeli army in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Ras al Amud, on October 21, 2015. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

That number represents 38.4% of the total Palestinian population in the world of 12.7 million, the report said. There are 1.53 million in Israel (12%), 5.26 million in Arab countries (44%) and 696,000 in other foreign countries (5.5%).

In total, there were 2,972,069 Palestinian living in the West Bank — including 431,866 in Jerusalem, and another 1,912,267 in the Gaza Strip, the PCBS assessed.

The report noted that “the formulation of comprehensive data on the Palestinian population is a thorny and complex issue due to objective reasons related to the sources of data and the fact that some Palestinians who live abroad integrate into the host countries, making it difficult to obtain data on Palestinians residing in those countries.”

The ratio of Israelis to Palestinians within Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza is a key argument in favor of the two-state solution for solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, rather than a one-state solution that envisions autonomy for Palestinians but not full democratic rights.

In a speech on Wednesday, US Secretary of State John Kerry laid out his “comprehensive vision” for the future of Middle East peacemaking and warned that the settlement enterprise was putting the possibility of a two-state solution in jeopardy, that Israel’s government agenda was being set by extremists, and that, “If the choice is one state, Israel can either be Jewish or democratic, it cannot be both, and it won’t ever really be at peace.”

Experts have in the past disputed Palestinian officials’ population numbers.

In June 2016 demographics expert Prof. Sergio DellaPergola told a subcommittee of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that his research showed 2.4 million Palestinians lived in the West Bank as of the end of 2015. Former Israeli diplomat Yoram Ettinger, who has in the past accused the PA of immensely inflating its population in order to receive more foreign aid, placed the number at 1.75 million Palestinians in the West Bank at 2015’s end.

US Secretary of State John Kerry lays out his vision for peace between Israel and the Palestinians December 28, 2016, in the Dean Acheson Auditorium at the Department of State in Washington, DC. (AFP PHOTO / PAUL J. RICHARDS)

US Secretary of State John Kerry lays out his vision for peace between Israel and the Palestinians December 28, 2016, in the Dean Acheson Auditorium at the Department of State in Washington, DC. (AFP PHOTO / PAUL J. RICHARDS)

An Israel Central Bureau of Statistics report published in September found that Jews make up close to three-quarters of the Israeli population at 6.4 million residents, while Israel’s almost 1.8 million Arabs make up one-fifth of the population, which totals 8.58 million. Those of other backgrounds, including non-Arab Christians and those not categorized as members of a religious group by the Population, Immigration and Border Authority, make up less than 5% of the population, at 380,000 people.

A November report from the ICBS found that fertility rates of Jewish and Arab women were identical for the first time in Israeli history in 2015.

Jewish and Arab women had given birth to an average of 3.13 children as of last year, the report said.

In 2000, the fertility rate among the country’s Arab population stood at 4.3 children per woman, while the fertility rate of Jewish women was 2.6. Since then the gap has narrowed as the Arab rate dropped off and the Jewish rate steadily increased.

According to the PCBS report, the average fertility rate for Palestinians in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza in the period 2011-2013 was 4.1 children per woman.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.