Population of Jewish settlements in West Bank up 15,000 in a year
The number of Jewish settlers in the West Bank grew by more than 15,000 in the past year to reach a total that exceeds 350,000 for the first time and has almost doubled in the past 12 years.
Figures from Israel's population registry show a 4.5% increase in the past 12 months. Most of the newcomers moved into settlements that many observers expect to be evacuated in any peace deal leading to a Palestinian state.
There are an additional 300,000 Jews living in settlements across the pre-1967 border in East Jerusalem, the pro-government and mass-circulation newspaper Hayom reported.
The populations of the big settlement blocs of Maale Adumim, Gush Etzion and Ariel were stable over the past year. Maale Adumim and Gush Etzion are expected by most diplomats and negotiators to become part of Israel under an agreement on borders, but the future of Ariel, which juts deep into the West Bank, is uncertain.
The Palestinians say settlement growth is strangling any prospect of a viable state in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza. The issue is the main block to resuming negotiations with Israel. A 10-month partial freeze on settlement expansion came to an end almost two years ago, since when there have been no meaningful talks.
One Israeli politician predicted that the number of Jewish settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem would reach 1 million within four years. At that point "the revolution will have been completed", Yaakov Katz told the newspaper.
Meanwhile, settlers' leader Dani Dayan said the Jewish presence in the West Bank was "an irreversible fact". : "Trying to stop settlement expansion is futile ... Western governments must reassess their approach to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They should acknowledge that no final status solution is imminent."
Instead, the international community should relinquish its "vain attempts to attain the unattainable two-state solution, and [replace] them with intense efforts to improve and maintain the current reality on the ground".
All settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem are illegal under international law. US state department spokesman, Patrick Ventrell, said recently: "We do not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity and we oppose any effort to legalise settlement outposts."
The Palestinian prime minister, Salam Fayyad, said on Thursday that violent attacks by settlers on Palestinians and their property, mosques and farmland had increased by 150% over the past year.