Palestinian population soars


The Palestinian population in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem has grown 30 percent over the past decade, a census found.

The Palestinian Authority’s Central Bureau of Statistics, having completed its first census in a decade, announced Saturday that the Palestinian population stands at 3.76 million, up from 2.89 million in 1997.

The figures could bolster Palestinian Authority demands for Israel, which quit Gaza in 2005, to cede large parts of the West Bank and even east Jerusalem under peace talks that were revived in November.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, like his predecessor Ariel Sharon, argues that a growing Palestinian population in the territories, as well as a relatively high birth rate among Israel’s Arab citizens, poses a “demographic threat” to the Jewish state. The answer to this threat, Olmert says, is a Palestinian state.

Israeli demographers in the past have accused Palestinian census takers of inflating population figures for the sake of political gain. There was no immediate Israeli response to the latest census.

Israel’s population of 7.2 million is 80 percent Jewish and approximately 20 percent Arab.

Palestinians say they have as many as 4 million compatriots living abroad as “exiled refugees” and who also stake a claim in future nationhood.

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