The growth of the settler population slowed slightly in the first five months of 2010, but the numbers still rose at almost three times the national average, according to Central Bureau of Statistics data released this week. This despite the government’s efforts to dramatically curb construction in settlements.

Based on the figures for January 1- June 1, the CBS projected a 4.8 percent rise in the settlers’ numbers for 2010 as a whole, down slightly from 5.3% in 2009. The projected rise for 2009 was similarly down to 4.9% when measured in September of that year, but the rate had risen by the year’s end.

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The nationwide population rose by 1.8% in each of the two years.

The new CBS figures are the first official population data to be published since the 10-moratorium on new construction went into force in November 2009, and the first to provide a picture of the impact it had on the number of people who live in or chose to move to West Bank settlements.

Settlers leaders said Thursday they were pleased by their region’s growth, which has long hovered at just over 5%, even as they warned that the numbers could drop significantly unless Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu ended what they are now calling “a silent-freeze” following the expiration of the moratorium.

“We are happy about the growth, but the current freeze on the cities of Judea and Samaria is an existential threat to its population and will soon choke us,” warned Naftali Bennett, the director-general of the Council of Jewish Communities of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip.

In 2009, the settler population grew by 15,000, out of which 10,600 represented births and the remaining 4,400 people who moved to Judea and Samaria.

As of June 2010, 303,900 Jews lived in Judea and Samaria, a rise of 7,200 from 296,700 on December 31, 2009, according to the CBS.

The bulk of the growth in the first five months of 2010 – 50.4% – came in the three largest settlements – Modi’in Illit, Betar Illit and Ma’aleh Adumim.

In 2009, they accounted for 54.5% of the population growth.

The moratorium that ended on September 26 froze housing starts for 10 months, but work was allowed to continue on 3,000 homes already under construction, of which 796 were completed by the end of June.

At that time, work was under way on 2,100, out of which 1,107 were in the three large settlements.

The Council of Settlements has warned that both Betar Illit and Ma’aleh Adumim are almost out of permits, and can only continue to build if the Construction and Housing Ministry issue new tenders.

If these two cities – which accounted for 38% of the new housing in the settlements from 2005 to 2009 – can’t build, overall growth will suffer, the Council of Settlements warned.

The status of future construction in Modi’in Illit, the largest settlement – which according to the June 2010 data has 48,100 residents – remains unclear.

Although overall settlement growth is high, most of the (smaller) communities are actually seeing fairly slow growth.

Forty-eight of the 121 settlements had fewer than 500 residents at the end of 2009. In at least 75 settlements, the population grew by fewer than 50 people in 2009, and in some cases not at all.

According to Peace Now, 14 of the larger settlements are now almost out of permits.

The Council has demanded that relevant ministries permit construction of 4,321 new units in the following nine settlements that lack construction permits or are almost out of them: Betar Illit, Ma’aleh Adumim, Alfei Menashe, Givat Ze’ev, Ariel, Efrat, Elkana, Geva Binyamin (Adam) and Kiryat Arba.

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