West Bank settlers say population up 3 percent in 2018


Jerusalem (AFP)

The Jewish settler population of the Israeli-occupied West Bank grew by three percent to 448,672 in 2018, the main organisation representing the settlers said on Tuesday.

The figures, released by the Yesha Council, exclude the estimated 200,000 Israelis living in occupied and annexed east Jerusalem.

Yesha said its figures were based on data supplied by the Israeli interior ministry.

A statement by the council said that while the overall population was up from 2017 the rate of growth has slowed over the past decade from a 5.8 percent rise in 2008.

"The obvious conclusion is that there is not enough new construction in recent years," it said.

At the end of December authorities approved plans to build about 2,200 new West Bank homes for Israelis, settlement watchdog Peace Now said.

The NGO says that settlement construction approvals have soared since US President Donald Trump took office in 2017. Trump is a strong supporter of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Since then, Peace Now says, Israeli authorities have approved more than 15,000 settler homes in the West Bank, occupied by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War.

Israel faced sharp criticism from the administration of former US president Barack Obama over settlement construction.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews account for the overwhelming majority of residents of the two biggest settlements.

They are Modiin Illit, west of Ramallah, with a population of 72,944, and Beitar Illit, southwest of Jerusalem, with 58,774 inhabitants, according to the interior ministry.

The ultra-Orthodox comprise about 10 percent of the overall Israeli population and more than one-third of West Bank settlers.

The third-largest settlement in the West Bank is Maaleh Adumim, east of Jerusalem, with a mixed population of 41,220 secular and religiously observant Jews.

Israeli settlements are seen as illegal under international law and major obstacles to peace as they are built on land the Palestinians see as part of their future state.

Prominent members of Netanyahu's right-wing government openly oppose Palestinian statehood and the settler lobby has strong political influence.