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Israel: illegal settler population continues to increase

An Israeli settler walks past an electoral campaign poster of Israel's prime minister and Likud party chairman Benjamin Netanyahu at a street in the West Bank town of Hebron, on September 4, 2019 [HAZEM BADER/AFP via Getty Images]

Israel's illegal settler population in the occupied West Bank increased at a dramatic rate last year despite the Biden administration in the US rejecting Israel's push to build more settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories, a pro-settler group said today.

The report by West Bank Jewish Population Stats shows that the aggressive Israeli settlement spree during Donald Trump's presidency has not slowed down. Trump's administration declared in 2019 that it did not consider the settlements to be illegal under international law. The reality is that all settlers and settlements are illegal under international law.

Trump's views about settlements were consistent with his pro-Israel position. Throughout his presidency he displayed contempt for international law relating to Israel-Palestine by recognising Jerusalem as Israel's capital in December 2017, moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and then formally recognising Israel's 1981 annexation of the Golan Heights.

Biden's administration may criticise settlement expansion as an obstacle to resolving the conflict, but it does nothing to stop Israel from expanding and building settlements and settling ever more Jews in the occupied Palestinian territories. According to the statistical report noted above, the Israeli settler population grew to 490,493 as of 30 January, a rise of almost 3.2 per cent over thirteen months. The illegal settler population has risen by 16.5 per cent since the group began compiling statistics in 2017.

READ: Settlers uproot grapevines in West Bank

"There's a tremendous amount of [settlement] construction going on," said the group's CEO, Baruch Gordon, including some in his community of Beit El, near the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah. "Right now there's 350 units going up that will probably be finished within a year, year and a half. So when that hits, that's going to increase the size of our town by about 25 per cent."

The settler population, explained Gordon, tends to be younger and more religious, with a higher average birth rate. Many Israelis are drawn to the state-subsidised settlements for the quality of life. "Just like in America, people moved out of Manhattan and went to the suburbs and found that they could live in more open spaces, and the same is happening in Israel."

Data from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs earlier this month revealed that over 1,300 Palestinians, including children, have been displaced as a result of the rapid surge in home demolitions since Biden took office. Palestinians have also been evicted from their homes in occupied Jerusalem, which are then handed over to settlers.

Activists condemn US President Joe Biden's refusal to take any practical steps and apply meaningful pressure to the apartheid regime in Israel to end such practices which are akin to crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing. This, they point out, undermines the credibility of his declared public opposition to settlement expansion and home demolitions.

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