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Jewish Settlement in West Bank Escalating Rapidly, Report Finds

Some 104,000 Jewish settlers will be living in the West Bank by the end of this year, a 13.5 percent increase over the population at the end of last year, says a report released by the West Bank Data Project.

The estimate does not include East Jerusalem, which Israel annexed in 1967.

The number of Jewish settlers in the Gaza Strip is expected to total 4,200 by year’s end.

The West Bank Data Project is a Jerusalem-based research program headed by Meron Benvenisti, a former deputy mayor of Jerusalem, and Yehuda Litani. Both are leading Israeli experts on the administered territories and the Palestinians.

Their report notes that the rate of growth among settlers slowed down during the first two years of the intifada, 1988 and 1989, but has since regained momentum. It is “expected to reach an all-time record in 1992,” the report says.

The report’s figures corroborate a point made recently by Housing Minister Ariel Sharon of Likud. He said that Jewish settlements under went dramatic growth from 1984 to 1986, the two years when Laborite Shimon Peres was prime minister, even though the Labor Party is officially opposed to settlement expansion.

The paradox is attributable to the fact that Peres headed a national unity government in which Labor made concessions to Likud on settlement policy.

40 PERCENT GROWTH FORECAST

The West Bank Data Project differentiates between “ideologically motivated” settlements, where growth is relatively slow, and settlements in “metropolitan areas,” where it is rapid and where about 85 percent of the settlers live.

The ideological settlements are defined as those built in the Samaria region of the West Bank and in the Hebron hills mainly by the Gush Emunim, militant Orthodox Jews who believe they have a divine right to the territory.

The metropolitan settlements are those within 30 minutes’ driving time from the center of Jerusalem or 45 minutes from central Tel Aviv.

Analyzing trends, the report concludes that the pool of settlers remains largely young, mid die-class Israelis fleeing the congested cities in search of a suburban environment of one-family homes with gardens.

It says that about 3,000 housing units are under construction within commuting distance of Jerusalem and 3,800 in proximity to Tel Aviv, out of 22,000 new housing units completed in the West Bank at the end of 1990.

“If the construction program is fully implemented, the housing stock by the end of 1995 will reach approximately 35,000 units, a growth of almost 40 percent in five years,” the report says.

It also describes the financial incentives offered settlers. “The average mortgage in a development town is one-third lower than in a West Bank settlement,” it says, but “a West Bank apartment is 25 to 30 percent cheaper than in Israel.”

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