Report: Israeli settler population surged during Trump era
Israel’s West Bank settler population has grown at a far higher rate than the country as a whole over the last four years, a pro-settler group said Wednesday, a period that coincides with the Trump administration’s unprecedented acceptance of settlement activity.
The report by West Bank Jewish Population Stats shows the settler population growing by around 13 per cent since the start of 2017 to reach 475,481. During the same period, Israel’s population grew by around eight per cent to reach nearly 9.3 million, according to the government.
The group’s report, which is based on official government data, does not include annexed east Jerusalem, home to more than 200,000 settlers.
Baruch Gordon, the director of West Bank Jewish Population Stats, downplayed the influence of US policy, saying the annual growth rate actually declined in recent years even before the coronavirus pandemic. The West Bank settler population grew by 2.62 per cent in 2020, according to his figures, compared to 1.7 per cent in Israel as a whole. In 2016, the settler population grew 3.59 per cent.
“I don’t think any American president can influence that much, because growth on the ground is (dependent on) internal Israeli government decisions on how much construction to do and not to do,” he said.
Many settlers are religious Jews who tend to have larger families, driving population growth, and many Israelis are drawn to the settlements because they offer more affordable housing.
Gordon expects growth to continue even if President Joe Biden pressures Israel to rein it in. “The facts on the ground are stronger than any American foreign policy,” he said.
Israel captured the West Bank and east Jerusalem in the 1967 war, and the Palestinians want both as part of their future state. The Palestinians and much of the international community view the settlements as illegal and as an obstacle to creating a viable, contiguous Palestinian state.
The settlers and their supporters view the West Bank as the biblical and historical heartland of the Jewish people and are opposed to any partition.
Former President Donald Trump’s administration abandoned decades of US policy by accepting the settlements and released a Mideast plan in which Israel would have been able to keep all of them, including smaller settlements deep inside the occupied territory. Last year, Mike Pompeo became the first US secretary of state to visit a settlement.
The Palestinians angrily rejected the plan, and Biden is likely to abandon it. He is opposed to settlement expansion and has said he hopes to revive peace negotiations.