Netanyahu responds to Obama: Israelis will determine country’s best interests


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded to comments attributed to President Obama, saying that Israelis will determine the country's best interests.

“Only the Israeli people will determine who best represents the State of Israel's vital interests,” Netanyahu reportedly said Wednesday during a visit to the Gaza Division of the Israel Defense Forces.

“Over the past four years Israel has withstood tremendous diplomatic pressures. They insisted that we curb our demand for action on Iran; that we withdraw back to the 1967 lines; that we divide Jerusalem – that we stop building in Jerusalem. We fought against those pressures. I will continue to safeguard Israel's vital interests, for its security,” the prime minister, whose party stands poised to take the most Knesset seats in next week's election, said.

The comments came a day after a column by Jeffrey Goldberg for Bloomberg stated that when Obama was told that the Israeli government had approved plans to advance the development of housing in the controversial E-1 corridor between Maale Adumim and Jerusalem, “Obama said privately and repeatedly, ‘Israel doesn’t know what its own best interests are.’ With each new settlement announcement, in Obama’s view, Netanyahu is moving his country down a path toward near-total isolation.”

Support for Hamas soars


A new poll shows growing support for the Islamist Hamas movement in both the West Bank and Gaza. If the elections were held today, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh would beat Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas.

The poll, by veteran pollster Khalil Shikaki of the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, found that 48 percent of the electorate in both the West Bank and Gaza would vote for Haniyeh, and 45 percent for Abbas. Just three months ago, a similar poll predicted a victory for Abbas, with 51 percent support over Haniyeh’s 40 percent. The poll showed Haniyeh as the most popular he has been since 2008.

“It’s a moment of happiness and popularity for Hamas, and a moment of challenge for Abbas,” Bassem Ezbidi, a professor of political science at Birzeit University told The Media Line. “Hamas is using its 'victory' in its recent war with Israel to enhance its status.”

Last month, Israel and Hamas fought for eight days during which Hamas launched hundreds of rockets at Israel and Israel responded with punishing airstrikes. The fighting ended with a cease-fire that has so far been observed by both sides. Hamas has said it proved itself as equal to Israel despite the Jewish state’s vastly larger military.

Abbas has focused his efforts on the diplomatic track. Last month, the United Nations General Assembly recognized “Palestine” as a non-member observer state, which allows membership in various UN committees. Ezbidi says this achievement pales in the face of what many see as Hamas’s military achievements.

Israel is also punishing the Palestinians for the decision to go to the UN. Israel is withholding $100 million in taxes and customs revenues it collects on behalf of the Palestinians, and is using it to pay Palestinian debts to Israeli companies such as the Israel Electric Company. That money is usually used to help pay the salaries of more than 150,000 Palestinian civil servants.

“More than two-thirds of these civil servants have bank loans for their houses and cars so the banks are also getting nervous,” Ezbidi says. “We are really in a mess here in Ramallah. Hamas is being perceived as strong, and Abbas as very weak.”

For the first time in many years, Hamas held demonstrations in the West Bank to mark the anniversary of its founding. Thousands of Palestinians waving green flags came out, in yet another show of strength for Hamas.

Israeli officials are watching the internal developments among the Palestinians with growing nervousness.

“The support for Hamas is over-rated, and Hamas has not gained anything for the Palestinians,” Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor told The Media Line. “But the confrontational approach is gaining ground, and nobody is interested in negotiations with Israel.”

The results of the poll also raise the question of Palestinian “reconciliation”, bringing an end to the bitter division between Abbas’s Fatah and Hamas. In 2007, after a mini-civil war, Hamas violently took over Gaza. Since then, there has been almost no contact between Hamas and Fatah and the Palestinian parliament has been unable to meet.

Polls consistently show that Palestinians want the rivalry to end, and for national elections to be held. But most analysts say they doubt that either side is ready now for reconciliation.

“Each side is playing up its victory – Hamas on the military side and Abbas on the diplomatic side – and neither wants to compromise,” Ezbidi said. “I think support for Hamas will continue to grow.”

Olmert’s Conversion From Pol to Leader


As far as personality goes, Ehud Olmert is not my kind of guy. He comes off like he thinks he’s God’s gift to humanity, riffraff that we are.

I remember several years ago when as mayor of Jerusalem, he came to view the damage to a local Conservative synagogue that had been firebombed. He didn’t walk through the blackened sanctuary, he sauntered through in a stately way, his head in the air. Wearing a very expensive-looking suit and shoes, he was the picture of an aristocrat, of someone who’s always known he’s entitled to power and all its perks. He didn’t light up one of his big cigars, but he might as well have.

This was before the intifada. In those days, and even earlier, I couldn’t bear Olmert. In both personality and politics, he was offensive. He seemed the ultimate sleaze, a cynical pol thoroughly mobbed up with every conniving businessman who had a hand in Israeli politics.

As mayor, he sold himself to the capital’s haredim. Worse, he was the government patron of the radical settler movement in Arab East Jerusalem. Worst of all, he was the prime mover behind the Netanyahu government’s crazed decision to open the Western Wall Tunnel in 1996, which ended with 16 Israeli soldiers and about 80 Palestinians dead.

This is a lot to put aside when judging Olmert today as the interim prime minister and as the man very likely to be confirmed for the post in the March 28 election. But, finally, political leaders shouldn’t be judged on personality, because they’re all full of themselves to a greater or lesser degree. And, unfortunately, Olmert’s attraction to money and the moneyed makes him fairly par for the course among his peers; he’s probably no worse than Ariel Sharon was on that score.

You have to judge politicians, especially those running for prime minister, without sentiment. And if they’ve changed direction, you have to give more weight to what they’ve done lately than what they did before. Unless the candidate is a truly malevolent character, you have to judge him or her on two things: leadership ability and political direction. And on that basis, I think Olmert is better suited to be prime minister than anybody else around.

My opinion of him began to change during the intifada. As Jerusalem mayor, he did a solid job of bucking up a public that was reeling from the suicide bombs. He didn’t talk empty slogans; he didn’t use bombast. Instead, he showed empathy for people and urged them not to heroism or patriotic fervor but to a kind of head-down, workaday, human-scale resilience. I don’t know if it’s better to say he rose to the occasion or bent to it, but this “prince” proved himself an inspirational leader of ordinary people during a long, agonizing ordeal.

Maybe more than anything else, that trial by fire prepared Olmert for the emergency role he just assumed.

The other reason he’s the best suited to be prime minister is his political turnaround, which has been more emphatic and far-reaching even than Sharon’s. As Sharon’s vice premier and closest political ally, it was Olmert who gave the first signal of the disengagement plan to come in his ground-shaking interview with Yediot Aharonot’s Nahum Barnea in December 2003.

Without laying out a map, Olmert made it unmistakably clear that he wanted unilateral withdrawal from Gaza and the West Bank interior and even from the outlying Arab neighborhoods and villages of Jerusalem. This, from the fellow who came up with Binyamin Netanyahu’s 1996 campaign slogan, “Peres will divide Jerusalem.”

The reasons Olmert gave weren’t moral, they were pragmatic. He argued that if Israel didn’t unilaterally narrow its borders, the world, including the United States, would force it back to even narrower ones. He also warned that if Israel didn’t separate itself from millions of Palestinians, it would stop being a Jewish state and become a binational one.

“We didn’t fight here for 100 years, we didn’t spill our blood to lose the Jewish state,” he said.

Very soon afterward, Sharon unveiled the disengagement plan. It was not easy overcoming the resistance within the Likud, let alone that of the settlers, and the most important soldier in the fight, after Sharon himself, was Olmert.

Cliche or not, he really did show vision and courage. He, too, is a transformed politician. Last week he didn’t hesitate in saying East Jerusalem Arabs would be free to vote in the Palestinian parliamentary elections. The old Olmert would have called such a decision national suicide.

Also to his credit: His worst political enemy is Netanyahu. They can’t stand each other. Enough said.

But one final point: Since 2004, I’ve been writing that Amir Peretz, because of the strength of his leadership in the cause of economic decency — something this country needs desperately — should become prime minister. I changed my mind during the current campaign and before Sharon had his stroke.

To be Israel’s prime minister, it’s not enough to show the way to raise up the poor — you’ve also got to show the way to fight Hamas, Islamic Jihad, etc., and to end the occupation. Peretz has shown only that he doesn’t have a clear way in mind. He gives hardly a clue about how he’d handle the Kassams coming out of Gaza.

As for ending the occupation, Peretz promises to sit down with Mahmoud Abbas and reach a final agreement in a year. Hasn’t he noticed that Abbas isn’t exactly running the show over there?

Peretz acts as if running the State of Israel will be a piece of cake, as if that’s supposed to inspire confidence in him. And when he declares “Oslo is alive and well,” it sounds like the intifada made no impression on him; that the last five years hasn’t affected his thinking at all.

I’d probably feel enthusiastic about Peretz becoming prime minister if we were living in a country whose overriding problem was poverty, one that was not surrounded by enemies — say, Brazil. But we are not Brazil.

Still, if Kadima goes into Election Day with an insurmountable lead over Labor and Likud and is guaranteed to end up running the government, then I’ll vote for Labor. I want there to be a strong voice for economic change, and on that issue, Peretz is by far the best.

But if it’s a close race, and it’s not certain which party is going to form the government, then I’m going to vote for the one that has the best candidate for prime minister. That party is Kadima.

Times have changed dramatically and for the better, and Olmert was out in front when they did. I believe he’s got further changes along those same lines in mind. I still wouldn’t feel entirely comfortable buying a used car from him, but as prime minister of Israel, I trust him.

 

Will Violence Again Flare Up in 2006?


Will the Palestinians start the new year with a renewal of violence?

That has been the question asked by many nervous Israelis in the final weeks of 2005, as the “truce” declared by Palestinian terrorist groups early last year came to an end.

True, there was never a complete cessation of violence. Islamic Jihad, which did not join in the truce, carried out several suicide bombings during the pact’s nine-month stretch.

But the relative lull helped Prime Minister Ariel Sharon engineer the Gaza Strip withdrawal and is credited by the Shin Bet with a 60 percent decrease in Israeli casualties from terror during 2005.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who coaxed terrorist groups into observing the cease-fire he declared with Sharon last February, appealed for an extension.

“I think it is our interest that the truce continues, in order to have the opportunity to reconstruct our country and to make things take their ordinary course,” he said last week during a fundraising trip to the United Arab Emirates.

Hamas, the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade and smaller factions have so far resisted the call.

According to last week’s Shin Bet report, arms smuggling into Gaza has skyrocketed sixfold since Israel left during the summer. In the West Bank, terrorists have already test fired a rocket in a bid to emulate the tactics of their Gazan comrades.

But there may be a grace period in the works before the dreaded resurgence of violence comes. Hamas is running in Palestinian Authority parliamentary elections on Jan. 25 and has sought a more mainstream political profile. It is seen as unlikely to resort to major terrorism before the votes are in — assuming, of course that the vote is not postponed.

Further complicating matters for the Palestinians is the speedy deterioration of Gaza into anarchy. Six foreigners have been kidnapped by gunmen there in recent days, belying Abbas’ pledge to turn the coastal strip — post-Israel — into an orderly prototype for a future Palestine.

All of this means that the U.S.-led “road map” for peace could soon end up in tatters.

Sharon may be preparing for that eventuality. According to a front-page report in Ma’ariv, the prime minister has sent Israeli officials to propose to the United States that, following the Palestinian Authority election, the road map should be abandoned in favor of unilateral action.

Sharon wants President Bush’s endorsement for Israel declaring a border that would include some West Bank land, while allowing for the creation of a temporary Palestinian state beyond, the newspaper said Monday.

“A wave of Hamas terrorism will thwart any hope” of progress in peacemaking, wrote Ma’ariv’s editor in chief, Amnon Dankner, and its senior political correspondent, Ben Caspit.

The road map, they added, “looks like a dead end, which in effect provides Sharon with a fig leaf to cover up the new diplomatic path being planned in Jerusalem.”

There was no immediate U.S. response, and a senior Israeli political source dismissed the article as” speculation.”

But Sharon, who looks set for re-election in March, has made no secret of planning to settle the conflict with the Palestinians during a third term in office — whether or not Abbas is a partner. Bush has already given his tacit approval to Israel’s intention to hold on to major West Bank settlement blocs, making their eventual annexation a formality.

Which leaves the question of whether the Palestinians will launch a new terror war or make do with what territory they get, hoping for economic revival and some domestic stability.

In a rare vote of confidence for potential progress, Turkey plans to take over the Erez industrial zone on the Gaza-Israel border, a move that would provide employment opportunities to hundreds of Palestinians. Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul is due in the region later this week to sign the deal.

The Jerusalem Post reported that Ankara sees the initiative as a chance to boost its pull in Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking and has been undeterred by Gaza’s recent cross-border violence.

Some See Signs as Pointing to Peace


 

With Palestinian terror groups generally committed to a lull in the fighting with Israel and Arab countries debating normalizing ties with the Jewish state, some in Israel see signs that the 57-year-old Arab-Israeli conflict finally may be winding down.

However, despite a hesitant optimism, certain factors suggest that an end to the conflict still appears far off:

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• The current cease-fire is fragile and could unravel at any moment.

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• The terrorist Palestinian organization, Hamas, which opposes peace with Israel, is getting stronger.

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• Most Arab countries still oppose normalization until Israel withdraws from all of what the Arabs consider “occupied territory.”

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• Israel insists that the Palestinians fulfill their promise to disband terrorist groups before the peace process advances, a commitment the Palestinians show no inclination to meet.

On the Israeli side, opponents of withdrawal, both within Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s Likud Party and further to the right, are trying to torpedo the disengagement plan.

The lull — or tahdiya, as the Palestinians call it — was announced March 17 in Cairo, after a meeting under Egyptian aegis of all the main Palestinian militias with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. The bottom line is that the terrorist groups say there will be no more terror attacks against Israel, at least until the end of 2005.

But the truce is heavily conditional. For the quiet to continue, the Palestinians demand that Israel meet a number of conditions:

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• Halt assassinations or arrests of wanted terrorists.

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• Release Palestinian prisoners.

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• Refrain from building in Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

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• Stop “Judaizing” eastern Jerusalem.

A six-point document released after the Cairo parley also reiterated the Palestinians’ strategic goals: Establishing a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital and securing a right for Palestinian refugees to return to homes and property they abandoned in Israel more than half a century ago. The document makes no mention of a Palestinian state coexisting peacefully next to Israel and offers no hint of compromise over the return of Palestinian refugees to Israel.

If the strong, heavily conditional wording was designed to get Hamas and Islamic Jihad to come aboard, it succeeded. But it also gives the militias a range of pretexts for returning to violence whenever they see fit.

The Israeli assessment is that the lull probably will hold until after this summer’s planned Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank, despite the possibility of intermittent rogue attacks.

What happens next is anybody’s guess, Israeli analysts say. It will depend to a large extent on how the new relationship being forged between Abbas’ secular Fatah movement and the powerful fundamentalist groups plays out.

In the long term, Israeli analysts say, the fact that the radicals have decided to join the political process is even more significant than the lull in violence. Hamas boycotted the last Palestinian parliamentary elections in 1996, but now the group says it will run in elections scheduled for July.

Hamas already has had some significant successes in municipal and university balloting. In local elections in January, it won 70 percent of the councils it contested. Last week, it won 25 of 41 seats in student elections at Hebron University.

Both Israeli and Palestinian pundits predict a strong showing by Hamas in July parliamentary elections. They say Hamas never has been stronger, and that the election could well be fought over socioeconomic issues, rather than political, with Hamas picking up a strong anti-establishment vote that works against Fatah.

Writing in the Yediot Achronot newspaper, Alex Fishman maintained that Hamas could win enough seats to virtually dictate the Palestinian political agenda.

“Central Fatah people are really concerned about the Hamas momentum: They say that ‘unless something dramatic happens, 70 percent of the delegates Gaza sends to parliament will be Hamas people. Abu Mazen will have to dance to their tune,'” he wrote, using Abbas’ nom de guerre. Danny Rubinstein, chief Arab affairs analyst for the newspaper, Ha’aretz, takes a similar view.

“East Jerusalem people say the public is angry at Fatah activists who have not been serving the public but rather handing out perks to cronies,” Rubinstein wrote. “The way to punish Fatah, they say, is by voting Hamas.”

If Hamas does gain a good measure of political power, the question is how it will use it. Will it become more moderate and responsible, accepting the need for a two-state solution with coexistence with Israel and a practical solution to the refugee issue? Or will it radicalize the entire Palestinian movement, rendering peacemaking virtually impossible?

Those could be the key questions in Israeli-Palestinian politics for years to come.

Israeli generals and politicians envisage more immediate problems. The military chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Moshe Ya’alon, is suspicious of the motives behind the lull.

“The militias want the lull, but see it as a time to regroup and rearm before the fighting resumes, without waiving their strategic goals,” he recently told businessmen in northern Israel.

Sharon has described the lull as a “positive first step,” but added that for “progress in the diplomatic process, the terrorist organizations will not be able to continue existing as armed militias.” In other words, Sharon insists that Abbas fulfill the Palestinian commitment to disarm terrorist groups, while Abbas prefers to try to co-opt them politically. The result could be deadlock.

In an attempt to break the looming logjam, Jordan’s King Abdullah is proposing some bold, out-of-the-box thinking. The normal Arab sequencing in peacemaking with Israel should be reversed, Abdullah says.

Until now, Arab proposals have insisted that Israel withdraw from occupied territory before the Arabs normalize ties, but Abdullah argues that if the Arabs first normalized ties, Israel would feel secure enough to withdraw from territory. Not only that, he believes that if the Arabs made such a collective gesture, there would be enormous international pressure on Israel to pullout of Arab territory.

Behind the scenes, some Arab and Muslim countries appeared ready to buy into Abdullah’s ideas. But Egypt, Syria and the Palestinians were instrumental in preventing the proposal from being raised at an Arab League summit in Algiers in late March.

The key to a breakthrough in peacemaking therefore remains what it always has been: progress on the Palestinian track. And despite the lull in violence, political differences between Israelis and Palestinians seem as acute as ever.

For example, where Sharon sees the “road map” peace plan leading to an interim Palestinian state, Abbas wants to move straight to full-fledged Palestinian statehood and a final territorial settlement with Israel. Even if Sharon were ready to make that leap, would an empowered Hamas allow Abbas to make the offer?

Sharon and Abbas are due to meet separately with President Bush in the United States next month. After those talks, perhaps the way forward will become a little clearer.

Leslie Susser is the diplomatic correspondent for the Jerusalem Report

 

Community Briefs


 

Prepare to Be Redistricted

Welcome to the political New Year in California, where the partisan warfare begins as soon as the champagne runs out. Most of the aggravation at the moment is revolving around Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s broken promise to public schools – but there’s a far deeper political debate brewing, as well.

The issue is redistricting, included as one of the Republican governor’s four main points of reform in his recent State of the State address. Essentially, the question is whether to take away the power of politicians to strike deals with each other on how their own districts are drawn. For Jewish Los Angeles and its familiar political faces, that could mean landing in a new Assembly, state Senate or congressional district with a new representative.

Schwarzenegger points to the fact that not a single congressional seat changed parties in the 2004 elections because both parties colluded to carve out safe regions for themselves to mutual advantage.

Redistricting is only supposed to happen once a decade after each census, but Schwarzenegger can’t wait that long to fight for the people, so he’s backing a state constitutional amendment introduced by Bakersfield Republican Assemblyman Kevin McCarthy. The amendment would put redistricting in the hands of a commission of retired judges.

Some Democrats, like Westside state Sen. Sheila Kuehl, are accusing Schwarzenegger of trying to pull a Tom DeLay-style Texas power grab, where midcensus Republican redistricting netted the GOP four extra House of Representative seats in 2004.

But California is not Texas, and some local Jewish Democrats are not worried.

“I waiver between indifference and welcoming it,” Rep. Howard Berman (D-North Hollywood) told The Journal.

Berman’s two criteria for supporting redistricting by a committee of judges are that they do not take into consideration any political data on citizens when drawing the maps, and that they do not try to achieve any partisan result.

“There may be some inconveniences for existing Democratic incumbents, but in the end a fair and legal redistricting is going to more likely help my party than hurt it,” Berman said.

With Democrats firmly in control of California (Arnie excepted), Berman said redistricting would be far more dangerous to GOP incumbents.

Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks) agrees, saying that there are senior Republican congressmen who could be in electoral trouble if their districts are redrawn: “This is chiefly a Democratic state.”

Sherman estimated that if every district were a microcosm of the state as a whole, Democrats would win all 53, “with the exception of those where Republicans could recruit a candidate with 22-inch biceps.”

Sherman’s major concern on the issue is the sheer cost of re-educating the public about who their representatives are.

And as for Los Angeles’ Jewish communities, Berman said that they can rest assured that whichever district and representatives they end up with will “be quite responsive” to their needs, whether or not they are Jewish.

Mayoral Debate: Different Place, Same Themes

On Jan. 13, a snarling traffic jam surrounded Temple Beth Am on the Westside. Inside, the five major L.A. mayoral candidates debated public policy just out of earshot of furious commuters.

All of the substantive questions that night were provided by the Jewish audience on tiny slips of paper read by the moderator (who, not incidentally, was late because she got stuck in traffic).

Familiar themes repeated themselves: Mayor James Hahn emphasizing decreasing violent crime, Councilman Bernard Parks accusing Hahn of corruption, state Sen. Richard Alarcon promoting his government ethics initiative, former Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg preaching innovation in government and Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa riding his wave of optimism.

The candidates were discouraged from addressing each other directly because there was no opportunity for rebuttal. This was a forum for the people.

On the particularly apropos issue of mediating L.A. traffic, Hahn uninspiringly told the crowd that “we all have to recognize there’s no magic bullet…. There’s a lot of little things.”

Villaraigosa spoke of extending mass transit rail to the ocean, though the MTA reports that just reaching to Culver City will take until 2010.

Hertzberg seemed to have the most thoughtful traffic plan in his Commuter’s Bill of Rights, which focuses on putting L.A. commerce and industry on a more dispersed schedule rather than the usual sunrise-sunset gridlock. Whether he could actually enact those provisions as mayor, such as keeping heavy trucks off the road during rush hour, is another question.

On the issue of the local economy, Parks blasted Hahn’s administration for failing to attract more large business headquarters. He said Los Angeles, which has none, pales in comparison to Atlanta, which boasts 30. Alarcon took the opposite tack, saying, “We cannot acquiesce to multinational corporations,” but rather ensure that the L.A. working class has decent wages.

The widest diversity of opinion came on the topic of crime. Parks, a former police chief, said the LAPD enjoys too many perks for too little work, Hahn said the LAPD needs more money and Hertzberg accused the mayor of wastefulness in asking for more funds when only 3 percent of all new city income since 2001 was spent on police.

New Math for Population Growth

A huge and growing Palestinian population in the West Bank and Gaza, popularized in Israel as the “demographic bomb,” reinforces the notion that much of the territories are untenable for Israel to retain.

But now, even as disengagement proceeds, Los Angeles businessman Bennett Zimmerman and a team of researchers are claiming that only 2.4 million Palestinians live in the West Bank and Gaza combined – about 1 million fewer than leading Israeli demographers had projected and 1.4 million fewer than the Palestinians claim.

Bennett’s report is making the rounds at Republican bastions like the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute.

The new study focuses on several supposed mistakes in the previous data. Among the differences in the new study: It prefers Palestinian Ministry of Health birth records over statistical projections, it claims to find a high level of emigration from the territories and it found a case of double counting, where 210,000 Jerusalem Arabs who were already counted in Israel’s population survey were included in the P.A. survey.

“If you look at the reports of [demographers] Arnon Soffer or Sergio Della Pergola, they use numbers issued by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics [PBS] in their forecasts,” Zimmerman said. “We say that the projection from the PBS didn’t come to be.”

The study has not gone unnoticed by other researchers in the field. Demographer Della Pergola spoke to The Journal from Israel: “I gladly acknowledge that the effects of international migration should be computed, but there are very limited possibilities for absorption of Palestinians abroad.”

The main discussion is about fertility, said Della Pergola. He questioned the quality of the Ministry of Health records, which point to fewer births.

“The U.N. has shown that it is much better to prefer a [statistical] model when actual data collection is totally inadequate,” he said.

He noted there has been a long tradition of underreporting “vital events” like births by the Palestinians.

And as for the fertility rate, Della Pergola said that Zimmerman’s team used Jordan as a model (which has low average birthrate) for the Palestinians, rather than the Israeli Arab model (which is much higher).

Zimmerman said his team was simply trying to audit the existing data.

“Ours was a question of verification,” he said.

Della Pergola isn’t buying it: “I find here an attempt to fit the data to their preconceptions. It is based on total ignorance of the scientific literature.”

 

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