(photo credit: AP)
The population of 21 West Bank settlements was static or declined in 2007, and the population at another 74 grew by 100 people or less, according to figures compiled by The Jerusalem Post from the Central Bureau of Statistics.
Yet the overall settlement population grew by 5.6 percent in 2007 - close to three times the growth rate in the rest of the country - primarily because of the increase at the three largest communities, Modi'in Illit, Betar Illit and Ma'aleh Adumim. Modi'in Illit and Betar Illit are about half a kilometer beyond the Green Line, and Ma'aleh Adumim is some 4.5 kms. beyond it. All three are within the boundaries of the West Bank security barrier.
In 2008, the population of those three cities combined to reach 110,200 people, or 38 percent of the entire settlement population of 289,600 at the end of 2008. The three accounted for 57% of the overall growth in the settler population.
That rise marked an increase on 2007, when the population of the three major settlements totalled 103,248, and accounted for 54% of that year's overall growth.
As Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu prepared to publicly respond Sunday to America's demand that Israel live up to that portion of the 2003 Road Map which calls for a freeze on all settlement activity, in practice most of the settlements are barely growing.
Apartment buildings are still going up in Ma'aleh Adumim, Betar Illit and Modi'in Illit, but at 75 of the 120 settlements the entire population would barely fill a handful of such buildings since they number fewer than 1,000 people each.
A glance backwards at population trends since the creation of the first settlements in 1967 shows that most of the communities had initial hikes and then leveled off.
Complete figures for 2008 are not yet available, but a survey of CBS population numbers over recent years reveals some interesting patterns.
In 2007, the settler population increased by a total of 14,500 people, through a combination of birth and migration, from 261,600 to 276,100.
Out of that number, 12,185 new settlers, or 84% of the population increase, came at a group of 25 larger settlements - ranging in size from Tekoa, with a population in 2007 of 1,455, to Modi'in Illit, with 38,047.
As in 2008, most of the 2007 growth, 7,886 people, was also at Modi'in Illit, Betar Illit and Ma'aleh Adumim. Another 30% of the overall growth in 2007, or 4,299 people, came at the remaining 22 mid-size settlements in that 25 member group.
When one looks beyond these 25 settlements, the remaining 95 settlements accounted for just 16% of the growth in 2007, amounting to 2,315 new people. And the majority of that growth was borne by a smaller subgroup of 30 settlements, which accounted for 1,993 of the overall settler population increase.
After that, a group of 44 settlements grew by only 322 people in total. Looking backward over a five year period, the growth in any one of these given settlements was less than 100.
A smaller grouping of 21 settlements had populations that declined at some point in the last five years, with nine of them having gone down consistently in that period, by small amounts.
Population figures show that in some settlement regions growth is marginal, static or in decline. These include the Jordan Valley Regional Council's 18 settlements, where the total population rose by 44 in 2007; the five settlements in the region of the Megilot Dead Sea Council, where total growth was 28 in 2007, and the 13 settlements in the Har Hebron Regional Council, which together grew by 221 people in 2007. Construction in these three regions in 2007 was almost non-existent, according to the CBS.
Individual settlements from other regions had growth that was marginal, static or in decline in 2007, too - including Alon Shvut in the Gush Etzion bloc, which Israel is expected to seek to retain under any final status agreement.
Peace Now has argued that the settlements have the capacity for enormous expansion. Last year it issued a report which said that unapproved plans exist for 58,146 apartment units in West Bank settlements and that settlers have permits for 6,206 new units. The Housing and Construction Ministry, last year, rejected the report as inaccurate.
In practice, the Council of Jewish Communities of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip has said that there are few projects on the ground beyond the continued construction in the three large settlement cities.
However, a 700-unit project is underway in Givat Ze'ev, located just outside Jerusalem, whose population of 10,873 people had grown by less than 100 from 2006 to 2007. As those units become ready later this year, the growth rate in Givat Ze'ev is likely to rise rapidly, thereby expanding the list of "growing" mid-size settlements to 26.
A number of other settlements have grown at unusually high rates - which is to say by 1,000 - in the last five years, including Kochav Yaakov, Geva Binyamin, Alfei Menashe, Efrat and Har Adar.