(JTA) — The population of Jewish settlers in the West Bank has increased at more than twice the pace of Israel’s overall population during Benjamin Netanyahu’s latest term as prime minister.
From 2009, when Netanyahu launched his second term, to 2014, the Jewish settler population in the West Bank grew 23 percent, to 355,993 residents, while the overall population increased 9.6 percent, according to figures from Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics obtained by The Associated Press and reported Monday.
Under Netanyahu, however, the settler growth rate was slower than the 31 percent increase witnessed in the previous five years under his predecessors, Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert.
The growth in the settlement population was attributed to the higher birthrates of the settlers, who tend to be more religious. Other Israelis are also drawn to settlement housing for economic reasons.
Outside of a 10-month settlement freeze in 2009-10, Netanyahu has remained committed to expanding settlements, which has drawn international condemnation. The United States, the United Nations and the European Union are among those that have criticized expansion, saying that settlements are illegal under international law and building is inimical to peace.
The Palestinian Authority has denounced settlement building, pointing to settlements as evidence that Israel is not committed to a two-state solution. The Palestinians claim the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem for their future state, and settlement building in the areas often stokes tension. Israel’s November announcement of 5,000 new settlement housing units provoked rioting.
The figures do not include the approximately 200,000 Jewish-Israelis living in eastern Jerusalem, which Israel has annexed.