An emergency Knesset committee debate about industrial action being taken by Israeli civil servants in the West Bank and Gaza Strip exploded Monday into a full-blown quarrel after it was claimed that the number of Palestinians living between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea now equaled that of Jews.
Employees of the Civil Administration, which runs daily affairs in the West Bank, launched a strike last Wednesday demanding improvements to their employment conditions.
While on strike, the employees were still showing up to work at the Defense Ministry body’s headquarters in the settlement of Beit El, but were not offering services, namely entry permits for Palestinians and building permits for settlers.
At a meeting of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Monday, the Deputy Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, Guy Goldstein, said that while the Civil Administration had been getting less money over recent years, the population of Jews and Palestinians in the West Bank had been growing, with the result that adequate services could no longer be provided for all.
To bolster this argument, COGAT’s deputy head, Uri Mendes, said that according to the Palestinian population registry, which registers births and deaths, around three million Palestinians were currently living in the West Bank — up from one million 25 years ago — on top of more than two million in the Gaza Strip.
This did not include Arab Israelis or Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem, he added.
Committee members were quick to add the five million Palestinians to the 1.5 million Arabs living in Israel to grasp the implication that the Jewish and Arab/Palestinian populations had now reached parity and that there was no longer a Jewish majority between the river and the sea.
According to the Central Bureau of Statistics report for 2017, Jews in the same area currently number 6.5 million.
This data tallies with a claim made in December 2016 by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics that by the end of 2017, the number of Palestinians living in Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip would equal the number of Jews in the same area at 6.58 million.
Demographics are at the heart of the broader debate about the future character of the State of Israel amid calls for Israel to annex parts of the West Bank. If Palestinians outnumber Jews, then the state can only remain Jewish if it ceases to be democratic.
Jewish committee members from both the right and the left jumped into the fray.
Demanding that the Defense Ministry present the figures in an official document, committee chairman Avi Dichter (Likud), a former head of the Shin Bet internal security agency, said, “I don’t remember the Palestinians presenting such a number… If true, it is surprising and concerning. If it is inaccurate, we of course want to know the real number.”
MK Mordechai Yogev of the pro-Jewish settler party Jewish Home charged that the Palestinian Authority was lying about the figures.
“The report of five million Palestinians between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River is inaccurate, to say the least,” he said, accusing the PA of recording “ten times more” registrations of births in the West Bank than of deaths.
To the left of center, MK Tzipi Livni (Zionist Union) used the figures to argue on Twitter that it was time Israelis understood the implications of demographic parity.
“If we do not wake up from the delusions of annexation [of the West Bank, as advocated by the Israeli right wing], we will lose the Jewish majority. It’s simple.”
Lawmaker Nachman Shai (Zionist Union) said on Twitter, “Equality in the number of Jews and Arabs between the River Jordan and the sea.
“This is a last-minute call to those who are worried about [the future of] a Jewish and democratic Israel. Time is up.”