Population growth is end of 2-state solution: settlers


JERUSALEM — The number of Israeli settlers living in the West Bank has soared by nearly one-quarter over the past five years to over 420,000 people, a prominent settler leader said Sunday, presenting new population figures that he said put to rest the internationally backed idea of a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians.

Yaakov Katz issued his report as the Israeli government is locked in negotiations with the Trump administration over understandings that are expected to include some curbs on settlement construction.

“We are talking about a situation that is unchangeable,” he said Sunday. “It’s very important to know the numbers, and the numbers are growing.”

According to Katz, the settler population hit 420,899 on Jan. 1, up 3.6 percent from 406,332 people a year earlier and a 23 percent increase from 342,414 at the beginning of 2012.

Katz said the numbers were based on data from the Interior Ministry that have not yet been made public. The ministry, which oversees the country’s population registry, had no comment. But Peace Now, an anti-settlement watchdog group, said the numbers appeared reasonable.

The figures are being published on a new website sponsored by Bet El Institutions, a settler organization that counts members of President Donald Trump’s inner circle among its supporters.

Katz’s figures did not include settlement construction in east Jerusalem, where more than 200,000 Israelis now live. Altogether, he said the population growth — which is nearly double the 2-percent nationwide rate of annual population growth — means the settlements are “irreversible,” he said.

“Whatever Angela Merkel or Trump or anybody else is thinking about, it belongs to the past, not to the future,” he said.

Israel captured the West Bank, along with east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, in the 1967 Mideast war. The Palestinians seek all three areas for a future independent state.