SHAFAQNA – A prominent Israeli settler leader has said the number of Israelis living in the occupied West Bank has soared to about half a million people in the past five years.
The announcement by Yaakov Katz came after reports said the Israeli regime had agreed with the Trump administration to restrict construction in the West Bank.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, however, poured cold water on those hopes on Sunday, telling a cabinet session that he “would like to make it clear there is much in these reports that is not true.”
Israel’s Channel 2 reported over the weekend that Netanyahu had consented during his February visit to the US to limit settlement expansion in the West Bank in return for the construction of a new settlement for those removed recently from Amona.
Nentanyahu’s office denied the report in a statement released on Saturday night, saying it was “incorrect” with “quite a few inaccuracies.”
The top Israeli settler leader put a further damper on the report, stressing that there is no change to the settlement expansion policy.
“We are talking about a situation that is unchangeable,” Katz said on Sunday. “It’s very important to know the numbers, and the numbers are growing.”
He cited a major growth in the numbers of settlers in the West Bank, saying the settler population hit 420,899 early this year, a 23-percent increase from 342,414 at the beginning of 2012.
The increase, which he said was twice Israel’s annual population growth of two percent, meant that the settlements are “irreversible.”
Katz said the numbers were based on data from the Israeli interior ministry that have not yet been made public. They were 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.
The figures, however, did not include settlement expansion in east Jerusalem al-Quds, where more than 200,000 Israelis are now settled on the land which the Palestinians want to make the capital of their independent future state.
Israel forced itself as an entity on the international map in 1948 on the back of full-on military takeover of vast expanses of Arab lands. In 1967, it occupied more chunks of territory belonging to Palestine, Lebanon, and Syria.
Ever since the latter takeover, Tel Aviv has been propping settlements and settler units across the Palestinian territory. The structures are deemed illegal by the United Nations and the Geneva Convention, which forbids construction upon occupied land.
Last December, the UN Security Council passed a resolution against Israel’s settlement activities.
However, emboldened since Trump’s January inauguration, Tel Aviv has ratcheted up the expansion of settlements work and “legalized” structures built in the past in a further challenge to the international community which regards them illegal.