Settler growth rate down for 7th year, but still higher than national average
Yesha Council blames slump on stalled building, although Jewish population of West Bank increasing at faster pace than among Israelis within Green Line
Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief
The growth rate among Israeli settlers in the West Bank declined in 2018 for the seventh consecutive year, but remained above the national average, according to population statistics released Tuesday.
The number of Israelis living over the Green Line increased by 12,964, or three percent, in 2018, demographics gathered by the Interior Ministry’s Population Immigration and Border Authority (PIBA) and published by the Yesha settlement umbrella council showed.
In 2017, the population increased by 14,299 or 3.4%.
The figures do not cover Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, which Israel, as opposed to the international community, does not consider settlements.
While the growth rate among Israeli settlers has not risen since 2012, the 3% figure from 2017 was still higher than the national average, which stood at 2% in the past year.
Ultra-Orthodox Jews account for the overwhelming majority of residents of the two biggest settlements.
They are Modiin Illit, west of Ramallah, with a population of 72,944, and Beitar Illit, southwest of Jerusalem, with 58,774 inhabitants, according to the Interior Ministry.
The ultra-Orthodox represent about 10 percent of the overall Israeli population and more than one-third of West Bank settlers.
The third-largest settlement in the West Bank is Maaleh Adumim, east of Jerusalem, with a mixed population of 41,220 secular and religiously observant Jews.
PIBA gathered population numbers from over 150 West Bank settlements and illegal outposts, where 448,672 Israelis are said to live. Some 2.75 million Palestinians currently live over the Green Line, according to the Defense Ministry’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories unit.
The figures showed a largely even distribution of ultra-Orthodox, national religious and secular Israelis living in the West Bank.
In a statement responding to the latest numbers, Yesha Council chairman Hananel Dorani said, “We are pleased to see the increase in the number of residents in the area; but in recent years, construction has been relatively low due to the eight-year freeze, and now still only limited plans are approved.”
The settler leader claimed that the building that took place during former US president Barack Obama two terms in office could be characterized as a freeze, but housing starts remained in the thousands for nearly every year the former American leader was in office.
Between 2011 and 2012 Obama reportedly got Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to agree to a 10-month building freeze. Approvals during that period did in fact drop to almost zero, however, they quickly picked back up when the agreement expired.
Nearly 5,000 homes gained final approval for construction in 2018. While data has yet to be released on how the number of homes that began being built in the previous year, the number in 2017 was 1,643. While building approvals are more politically influenced, construction starts have more to do with bureaucracy.