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Settler group says 421,000 Israelis now living in West Bank

Yesha Council says population growth faster than inside Israel; figures exclude more than 200,00 in East Jerusalem

A picture taken on February 8, 2017 shows a general view of a construction site in a new housing project in the Israeli settlement of Nili, near the West Bank city of Ramallah. (AFP Photo/Gil Cohen-Magen)
A picture taken on February 8, 2017 shows a general view of a construction site in a new housing project in the Israeli settlement of Nili, near the West Bank city of Ramallah. (AFP Photo/Gil Cohen-Magen)

The number of Israeli settlers living in the West Bank surged past 421,000 in 2016, a settler group said Thursday.

The Yesha Council said the number of settlers in the West Bank had grown by 3.9 percent since 2015, twice the rate of population growth inside Israel.

Its figures exclude residents of Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, home to more than 200,000 Israelis.

While Israel considers a united Jerusalem to be its capital and applied Israeli law to areas of the city captured in the 1967 Six Day War, Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state. The US and much of the international community says the city’s status should be determined in peace talks between the sides.

Chief foreign envoy of the Yesha council Oded Revivi, right, and Science Minister Ofir Akunis surveying new construction in the settlement of Efrat on January 16, 2017. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)
Chief foreign envoy of the Yesha Council Oded Revivi, right, and Science Minister Ofir Akunis surveying new construction in the settlement of Efrat on January 16, 2017. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

The Yesha Council said growth had slowed slightly since 2012 because of building freezes by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government under international pressure, particularly from the Obama administration.

Since the inauguration of US President Donald Trump in January, Israel has approved some 5,500 homes in the West Bank and over 500 homes in East Jerusalem.

The Knesset passed a law Monday, known as the Regulation Law, allowing Israel to expropriate private Palestinian land on which Jewish settler outposts were built. It legalizes dozens of wildcat outposts and thousands of settler homes in the West Bank.

Palestinians on whose land outposts were constructed illegally will receive monetary compensation or alternative plots of land under the law.

The law prompted international outcry — although Trump’s administration was conspicuously silent.

Settlement watchdog Peace Now said the law covers over 50 rogue outposts built on at least 800 hectares (2,000 acres) of Palestinian private land.

A picture taken on February 8, 2017 from the Palestinian West Bank village of Yasuf shows the Israeli wildcat outpost of Kfar Tapuah West, located near the settlement of Kfar Tapuah. (AFP Photo/Jaafar Ashtiyeh)
A picture taken on February 8, 2017 from the Palestinian West Bank village of Yasuf shows the Israeli outpost of Kfar Tapuah West, located near the settlement of Kfar Tapuah. (AFP Photo/Jaafar Ashtiyeh)

International law considers all settlements to be illegal, but Israel distinguishes between those it has authorized and those built without official permission.

Most of the international community considers settlements an obstacle to peace between Israel and the Palestinians, which was highlighted by the recent passing of United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334 in December which labelled settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem as having “no legal validity” and “a flagrant violation under international law.”

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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