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 says, 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% since the start of 2017 to reach 475,481. During the same period, Israel’s population grew by around 8% to reach nearly 9.3 million, according to the government.
The group’s report, which is based on official government data, does not include East Jerusalem.
Baruch Gordon, the director of West Bank Jewish Population Stats, downplays 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% in 2020, according to his figures, compared to 1.7% in Israel as a whole. In 2016, the settler population grew 3.59%.
“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 says.
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 US President Joe Biden pressures Israel to rein it in. “The facts on the ground are stronger than any American foreign policy,” he says.