By Jonah Mandel (AFP) – Jan 15, 2012
JERUSALEM — The number of Israeli settlers living in the West Bank at the end of 2011 rose by 4.3 percent compared with the previous year to 342,414, an Israeli lawmaker said in a statement on Sunday.
Citing official data obtained from the interior ministry, Yaakov Katz of the far-right National Union party said the number of settlers in the West Bank had increased despite a 2010 partial settlement freeze, which he claimed continued to slow Jewish construction in the West Bank in 2011.
Katz said there were now more than 700,000 Israelis living in areas occupied by Israel in 1967, including east Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.
He said some 300,000 Jews now live in east Jerusalem, along with another 20,000 in the Golan Heights, both beyond the so-called Green Line, the armistice line agreed after the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.
The figures given by Katz for overall settlement population and the number of settlers in east Jerusalem far exceed those usually cited by watchdog groups.
Israeli anti-settlement group Peace Now put the number of settlers in east Jerusalem in 2010 at 200,000, with another 18,000 in the Golan Heights, and 311,000 in the West Bank.
Katz said another 60,000 Jewish Israelis were studying at institutions in West Bank settlements in 2011, meaning there are "currently 720,000 Jews residing beyond the Green Line."
Katz said the 4.3 percent rise in the West Bank was low compared with 2009, when the figure jumped by seven percent from the previous year.
He also pointed out that the growth took place primarily in areas where the land was owned by regional councils, rather than in "settlement blocs" and cities or local councils, where the defence ministry must approve any new construction.
Israeli settlement construction has proved a consistent sticking point in talks between Israel and the Palestinians. Direct talks that began in September 2010 quickly broke down over the issue.
Israel declined to renew a partial settlement freeze that expired in 2010, and the Palestinians say they will not hold talks while the Jewish state continues to build on land they want for their future state.
Israel captured the West Bank, Golan Heights, east Jerusalem and Gaza during the 1967 Six-Day War, and considers all of Jerusalem its "eternal, undivided" capital.
The Palestinians want east Jerusalem as the capital of their promised state, and furiously denounce new settlement construction in the eastern sector of the city, as well as in the West Bank. Syria demands the return of the Golan Heights.
Last week, Peace Now said approvals for Jewish settler homes in east Jerusalem had reached their highest number in a decade in 2011.
According to the Peace Now report, Israel gave final approval for the construction of 3,690 homes in occupied Arab east Jerusalem in 2011, despite Palestinian and international condemnation.
The closest number in the past decade was in 2002, when 2,653 new homes were approved.
The report also said that settlement construction starts in the West Bank rose in 2011 by 20 percent compared with the previous year.
On Sunday, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called for an end to Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories, saying the illegal building of settlements worked against a two-state solution.
"Settlements, new and old, are illegal. They work against the emergence of a viable Palestinian state," he said in a keynote address at a conference in Beirut on democracy in the Arab world.
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