The fiftieth anniversary of the Six Day War is an appropriate occasion to examine demographic trends in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza and their implications. For some, this is an emotive subject and is surrounded by myths.
In 1967, Israel, with a population of 2.8 million, captured the Sinai, the West Bank, Gaza, and the Golan Heights that then had a combined population of nearly one million. Since then, Israel has withdrawn from the Sinai and Gaza, and the focus here is on the West Bank. We begin by examining demographic trends inside Israel. In 1967, Israel annexed East Jerusalem and the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) includes the Arabs of Jerusalem in its total of the population of Israel, despite the fact that they are not Israeli citizens, although they do have Israeli identity cards.
The CBS has published a range of forecasts of the population of Israel to 2065. (See www.cbs.gov.il/www/hodaot2017n/01_17_138b.doc) These used different assumptions about the birth rate, and the figures in Table 1 are based on its medium forecast. This suggests that the population will reach 10 million by 2024, 15 million by 2048 and 20 million by 2065. The CBS forecast a very small change in the balance between Jews and Arabs: the share of the latter will decline from 21 percent in 2015 to 19 percent in 2065. The big change will be within the Jewish population; the share of the ultra-orthodox (Haredi) in the total population is forecast to rise from 11 percent in 2015 to 20 percent in 2040 and to 32 percent in 2065. Their share of the Jewish population will rise from 14 percent in 2015 to 24 percent in 2040 and 40 percent in 2065.
Israel’s population is currently growing by two percent a year, mainly as a result of natural growth; immigration is very low. The Palestinian population in the West Bank and Gaza is growing by an estimated 2.9 percent a year. There are disputes about the size of the Palestinian population in the West Bank and Gaza because it has been alleged that the Palestinian Bureau of Statistics (PBS) does not reduce the total when people leave the West Bank and Gaza to live elsewhere, as many have done. At least two Israeli experts have denied that this significantly change estimates of the size of the Palestinian population in those areas. The PBS also includes the population of East Jerusalem in its calculation of the Palestinian population.
For these reasons, the data in the table below on the West Bank and Gaza are based on a neutral source: the CIA World Factbook and has been adjusted to avoid double counting. The Arab population of Jerusalem has been removed from the Palestinian total and remains in the Israeli one despite the affiliation that most East Jerusalem Arabs feel towards Palestine.
Table 3 shows that in the region between the Mediterranean and the River Jordan, the population of Israel fell from 76 percent of the total in 1967 to 67 percent in 2016. The Jewish population fell from 63 percent to 50 percent during the same period.
Table 3: Population in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, 1967-2016
In 1967, Israel annexed East Jerusalem, and it became a united city with a significant and growing Arab population. Since then the Arab population has risen from 69,000 (26 percent of the total) in 1967 to 324,000 (37 percent of the total) in 2015. Israel has built new suburbs in the eastern part of city, that were outside Israel prior to 1967 and which the Palestinians (and others) call settlements.
Israel has also built settlements in the West Bank, while those in Gaza were abandoned in 2005. According to the CBS, their population has increased significantly since 1967. Figures for recent years are given in Table 4. The CBS includes the Jewish population of the settlements in its totals for the population of Israel, even though this group does not, according to Israeli law, live inside the country. It does not include the approximately 300,000 Arabs living in Area C in the West Bank, under direct Israeli control. This is the area where Israeli settlements are located.
Table 4: The Population of Israel Settlements in the West Bank, end of year 1972-2015
Estimates of the Palestinian population in the West Bank and Gaza vary and Table 5 gives those made by the CIA, the Palestinian Bureau of Statistics (PBS), the United Nations and the World Bank (2015).
Table 5: The Population of the West Bank and Gaza by source, 2016
Some Israelis have said that the Palestinian figures are bloated, not only because they include the Arabs of East Jerusalem but also because the figures ignore the fact that many have left the West Bank and Gaza. This dispute is ideological in that it relates to the balance of Jews and Arabs in Israel and the West Bank and Gaza. Those favoring Israeli settlements in the West Bank (and opposing the creation of a Palestinian state there) suggest that demographics are not a threat: the Jews are not a minority. Those who are against settlements see a demographic threat as Jews become a minority between the Mediterranean and the River Jordan.
Population density in Gaza in 2017 is estimated at 4,931 per square kilometer (12,766 per square mile). In the West Bank, it is 478 per square kilometer (826 per square mile).
If the Palestinian population in the West Bank and Gaza, as estimated by the CIA, is ten percent smaller than claimed, because exits have not been counted, then it numbers four million. If the 1.8 million Israeli Arabs are added, then the total Arab population between the Mediterranean and the River Jordan is 5.8 million. With a Jewish population of 6.8 million, their share of the total is 52 percent; in 1967 it was 67 percent. This is one of the most important legacies of the Six Day War.