RAMALLAH, West Bank - The Palestinian population in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem has reached 3.76 million, up from 2.89 million a decade ago, according to census results released Saturday.
Only 208,000 Palestinians were counted in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem, which is sought by the Palestinians as a future capital, said Luay Shabaneh, head of the Palestinian Central Statistics Bureau.
Demographics play a crucial role in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, with higher population figures potentially bolstering Palestinian territorial demands. The unexpectedly low figure for east Jerusalem - it fell even below an estimate of 210,000 in the 1997 census - was immediately challenged by Palestinian politicians.
In 1997, census-takers were barred by Israel from going door-to-door and based their result on projections. This time, census volunteers conducted an actual count, working discretely to avoid confrontations with Israeli authorities, Shabaneh said.
'Population growth leveled off somewhat'
However, Hatem Abdel Kader, an adviser on Jerusalem affairs to Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, said he didn't believe the Jerusalem figures were reliable. "We doubt these numbers," he said, adding that he believes many Jerusalem homes were not visited by census-takers.
The number of Palestinians with Jerusalem residents rights may be considerably higher than those actually living in the city. With housing scarce and relatively expensive in east Jerusalem, many Palestinians with Jerusalem residency rights have settled in nearby West Bank suburbs.
In early December, some 6,200 census-takers fanned out across the West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem, going house to house to collect information.
Palestinians have one of the highest birth rates in the world, forcing Israel to consider the possibility that Jews, despite ongoing Jewish immigration, will one day be a minority in historic Palestine, the area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean. In September 2007, Israel's population included 5.45 million Jews, 1.4 million Arabs and 310,000 others, according to Israeli government figures.
Presenting the census results at a news conference, Shabaneh said that Palestinian population growth remains high, but as leveled off somewhat. Pre-census projections had predicted a population of 3.9 million.
According to actual results, 3.76 Palestinians live in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem, the territories the Palestinians want for a future state. That includes 2.345 million in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, and 1.416 million in Gaza, Shabaneh said.