Jewish settlers in the West Bank have crossed the 350,000 mark this year, according to new Interior Ministry figures.
As of July 2012, some 350,150 Jewish settlers live in Jewish communities in the West Bank, 15,580 more than last year.
If the settlement enterprise keeps on growing at that rate, a population of about 4.5 percent per year, there will be half a million Jews in the area within a few years, according to Interior Ministry date quoted by National Union chairman MK Yaakov Katz.
These figures do not include 300,000 Jews living in East Jerusalem and other neighborhoods of the capital located outside the Green Line, Katz said.
The international community — including some of Jerusalem’s closest allies — vehemently opposes the expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
“According to the current growth rate, ahead of upcoming elections in a year and three months, we will stand at approximately 400,000 Jews and within four years, about half a million Jews in Judea and Samaria,” Katz said. “Together with East Jerusalem we’ll be over a million Jews. Then the revolution will be completed.”
In 2000, 190,200 Jews lived in West Bank settlements. By 2009, the number had grown to 301,800, according to the figures quoted by Katz.
Hagit Ofran, who monitors the settlements for the dovish Peace Now organization, was somehwat skeptical of the numbers, and the settlers’ claims of continued growth.
She said the numbers are based on the ministry’s population registry and are thus slightly inflated. More accurate data is available from the Central Bureau of Statistics, which regularly conducts censuses and estimate the numbers of settlers non-census years with scientific statistical formula, she said.
“In the past, the settlers said that by 2000 there would be one million of them and it didn’t happen,” Ofran told The Times of Israel on Thursday. “The growth occurs mostly in ultra-Orthodox settlements such as Beitar Illit and Modi’in Illit and unfortunately the government promotes the construction of settlements and encourages the Israeli public to move to settlements.”
The number of Palestinians living in the West Bank and East Jerusalem is growing as well, according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics. In 2000, fewer than two million Palestinians lived there, a number they estimate will have grown by 50 percent by 2016. In 2012, some 2,650,000 Palestinians live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, according to Palestinian figures.
On Thursday, settler leader Danny Dayan published an op-ed in the New York Times saying that settlers, even those in areas outside possible blocs Israel would keep in a future agreement with the Palestinians, were there to stay.
“We aim to expand the existing Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria, and create new ones. This is not — as it is often portrayed — a theological adventure but is rather a combination of inalienable rights and realpolitik,” the head of the Yesha settlers council wrote, using the Hebrew name for the West Bank. “Our presence in all of Judea and Samaria — not just in the so-called settlement blocs — is an irreversible fact.”