West Bank settlers report surge in population, praise Trump for settler-friendly policies

West Bank settlers report surge in population, praise Trump for settler-friendly policies
A West Bank settler group has said that Trump's policies have helped rapid growth of Israeli settlements in Palestinian territory.
3 min read
06 February, 2019
The UN recorded over 220 incidents of violence by Israeli settlers in 2018 [AFP]

The number of people living in Israeli settlements surged at a much faster rate than the overall Israeli population last year, a West Bank settler group said on Tuesday.

According to statistics from West Bank Jewish Population Stats, the population in Israeli settlements in the West Bank grew to 449,508 as of 1 January, up 3.3 percent from 435,159 people a year earlier.

In comparison, Israel's overall population grew 1.9 percent last year to 8.907 million people, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics.

Israel's interior ministry was not immediately able to confirm the scores of figures, but said it had been in touch with Gordon's group and the numbers appeared authentic.

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

Israelis living in West Bank settlements often come into confrontation with the territory's 2.5 million Palestinians.

An additional 200,000 Israelis live in settlements in occupied east Jerusalem.

Settler-friendly policies from Washington

Baruch Gordon, West Bank Jewish Population Stats' director, predicted that growth will increase even more rapidly due to the policies of the Trump administration.

Gordon said the White House has created a much friendlier environment for the settlers, paving the way for a surge in construction in the coming years.

"It's just simply opened up. There's no longer this cloud looming over it," Gordon said.

Gordon's project conducts an annual study of official population data obtained from the Israeli interior ministry.

The report is sponsored by "Bet El Institutions", a prominent settler organisation that has ties to some of President Donald Trump's closest Middle East advisers.

The data showed robust growth in settlements across the board, from large towns located near Israeli population centres to isolated communities deep inside Palestinian territory.

President Barack Obama, like a string of Republican and Democratic predecessors, opposed the settlements as obstacles to peace and put heavy pressure on Israel to halt construction.

Trump, in contrast, has done little to stop the construction. While urging restraint at times, the White House has otherwise remained quiet as Israel has pressed forward with numerous developments.

"Since the change of the US administration, the atmosphere for construction permits has become much easier. They're being given with greater ease," he said.

"I think possibly the next report and certainly in the ones after that, I think we'll start to see a huge surge in the numbers here," he added.

Fading two-state solution

Ramallah and most of the international community view Israeli settlements as a key obstacle to peace, with Palestinians acutely concerned by ongoing Israeli land grabs.

Settler violence against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank is also routine, with the UN reporting over 220 incidents of assault or damage to property in 2018.

Over 90 percent of complaints filed by Palestinians regarding settler violence are closed by Israeli authorities without an indictment.

Gordon, the settler researcher, said the latest data should put an end to the international community's longstanding support for a two-state solution.

"Those who continue to talk about a two-state solution, in my mind it's just a sign that they're removed from the reality and the facts on the ground," he said.