The number of Israeli settlers living in the West Bank has soared by nearly one-quarter over the past five years to over 420,000 people, a prominent settler leader said Sunday, presenting new population figures that he said put to rest the internationally backed idea of a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians.
Yaakov Katz issued his report as the Israeli government is locked in negotiations with the American Trump administration over understandings that are expected to include some curbs on settlement construction.
“We are talking about a situation that is unchangeable,” he said Sunday. “It’s very important to know the numbers, and the numbers are growing.”
According to Katz, the settler population hit 420,899 on January 1, up 3.6 percent from 406,332 people a year earlier and a 23% increase from 342,414 at the beginning of 2012.
Katz said the numbers were based on data from the Interior Ministry that have not yet been made public. The ministry, which oversees the country’s population registry, had no comment. But Peace Now, an anti-settlement watchdog group, said the numbers appeared reasonable.
The figures are being published on a new website sponsored by Bet El Institutions, a settler organization that counts members of US President Donald Trump’s inner circle among its supporters.
Katz’s figures did not include construction in East Jerusalem, where more than 200,000 Israelis now live. Altogether, he said, the population growth — which is nearly double the 2% nationwide rate of annual population growth — means the settlements in the West Bank, an area the Palestinians want for a future independent state, are “irreversible.”
“Whatever Angela Merkel or Trump or anybody else is thinking about, it belongs to the past, not to the future,” he said.
Ahmad Majdalani, a senior aide to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, said Palestinian independence is the only way to peace and remains a possibility, despite settler efforts to derail it.
“The two-state solution was possible yesterday and today and at any time. The two-state solution is not the problem,” he said. “Settlements are.”
Katz’s comments come as Israel is involved in intense talks with the Trump administration over possible limits to some settlement construction in the hopes of restarting peace talks.
Speaking to his cabinet on Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said there was still no agreement. “I will not go into details,” he said. “Our talks with the White House are continuing. I hope they will conclude quickly.”
Katz, widely known by his nickname “Ketzeleh,” is one of the founders and most prominent figures in the West Bank settler movement. He is a former member of parliament and led a hard-line nationalist party.
He also heads Beit El Institutions, an organization that sponsors a well-known Jewish seminary and Arutz Sheva, a pro-settler news agency.
Official US records show that its donors have included the family foundation of Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and confidant; David Friedman, his new ambassador to Israel; and Trump himself.
Friedman, a former fundraiser for the Bet El Institutions, was narrowly confirmed last week as ambassador after a tough battle that included fierce opposition from dovish Jewish American groups.
Katz expressed faith that Trump would remain supportive and described the new ambassador as a “great American patriot.”
“The American people will be very proud of him,” he said.