Israeli settler population in occupied West Bank surpasses 500,000

Israeli settler population in occupied West Bank surpasses 500,000
Figures released by a pro-settler group show that there are now over half a million settlers living illegally in the occupied West Bank, but Palestinians say that this is an underestimate.
5 min read
03 February, 2023
There is now one settler to every six Palestinian residents of the West Bank, according to the figures [Getty]

Israel's West Bank settler population now makes up more than half a million people, crossing a major threshold, a pro-settler group said on Thursday. However Palestinian sources cast doubt on the numbers, saying that even more settlers now live illegally in the West Bank.

Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank are illegal under international law and the reported population increase gives rise to concerns that apartheid conditions for Palestinian residents of the territory will worsen.

Settler leaders predict even faster population growth under Israel's new ultranationalist government.

The report, by and based on official figures, showed the settler population grew to 502,991 as of January 1 last year, rising more than 2.5% in 12 months and nearly 16% over the last five years.

"We've reached a huge hallmark," said Baruch Gordon, the director of the group and a resident of the illegal Beit El settlement. "We're here to stay."

Israel's far-right governemnent opposes Palestinian statehood and has placed expanding settlements at the top of its priority list.

Already the government has pledged to legalize unauthorized outposts that have long enjoyed tacit government support and to ramp up approval and construction of settler homes around the West Bank.

“I think that in the coming years of this government there will be more building than there has been in the last 20 years of governments,” Gordon said.

Settlements have flourished under every Israeli government, including at the height of the peace process in the 1990s. Even Israel's short-lived previous government, which included parties supporting Palestinian statehood along with those opposing it, continued to build settlements.

The report came amid a surge in Israeli violence against Palestinians, with at least 36 being killed by Israel in January this year, and days after a visit by US. Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

The settler population has continued to grow under the Biden administration, despite renewed American appeals to rein in construction following years of President Donald Trump's hands-off approach.

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The settler population report does not include annexed east Jerusalem, where more than 200,000 settlers live. The West Bank and east Jerusalem are together home to some 3 million Palestinians.

Palestinian observers argue that the settler population in the West Bank is already larger the report shows

"There are several elements that make the Israeli counting of settler population inaccurate", Jamal Jumaa, coordinator of the Palestinian Campaign against Israeli Settlements told  The New Arab.

"First, all of the information comes from Israeli sources, which are mainly two types; official state data and independent Israeli legal groups", said Jumaa.

"State data doesn't count settlers living in the areas beside the 1948 so-called Green Line, because the state considers them as extensions to Israeli urban areas inside Israel's 1948 boundaries, although they are inside the West Bank," he pointed out.

"Second, the data presented by Israeli legal groups doesn't count settlers living in settlements surrounding Jerusalem, as they are counted with settlers in east Jerusalem itself, although many of these settlements expand deep into the West Bank," Jumma said.

"Although Palestinian institutions don't have the capacity to monitor settler population growth directly, we estimate their number in the West Bank to be roughly around 650,000 already."

According to Jumaa, "the growth of settler population corresponds to the expansion in settlement building, which together with the incentives given to Israelis to move into West Bank settlements, are all state-orchestrated policies."

"The Israeli settlement expansion follows a very specific map, designed along the lines of territory segregation in the Oslo accords", said Jumaa. The 1993 Oslo accords divided the West Bank into areas A, B, and C, with Palestinians having limited self-rule in areas A and B and Israel totally controlling Area C, which constitutes over 60% of the West Bank. 

"Although Israeli settlers live on a small portion of area 'C', all of it is under exclusive Israeli control, where Israel forbids Palestinians from building or developing their communities", Moayad Shaaban, head of the Palestinian Commission for Settlements and Wall Resistance, told TNA.

"It is clear too us that Israel seeks to fill area 'C' with settlers on Palestinian land, and if this doesn't stop, in the near future all Palestinian cities in the West Bank and towns will become isolated ghettos, surrounded by settlements from all sides," he added.


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Israeli settlements  in the West Bank are considered illegal by most of the international community, breaching the fourth Geneva convention that explicitly forbids an occupying power from transferring its civilian population to occupied territory.

The Israeli government, however, has actively encouraged settlement construction and considers only those settlement outposts constructed without its approval as illegal. 

“All settlements are illegal. There is no legitimacy for settlements or the presence of settlers in the Palestinian territories,” said Nabil Abu Rdeineh, a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. “The increase in the number of settlers is the result of Israeli government policies that do not believe in the two-state solution,” 

Palestinians and Israelis in the West Bank live under a two-tiered legal system that grants settlers special status and applies much of Israeli law to them including the right to vote in Israeli elections and the ability to access certain public services.

Palestinians live under Israeli military rule and do not enjoy the legal rights and protections afforded to settlers.

The open-ended military occupation has led human rights groups to conclude that Israel is committing the crime of apartheid by systematically denying Palestinians equal rights.

Agencies contributed to this report.