The growth rate in the settler population has slowed under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to its lowest point in over 23 years and possibly its lowest point ever, according to data from the Yesha Council and the Central Bureau of Statistics.
Settler leaders published the data on Tuesday as Netanyahu is in the midst of a heated campaign for the pro-settler vote, vying for it against other right-wing parties including Bayit Yehudi, Yisrael Beytenu and New Right.
In 1995, the settler growth rate in West Bank settlements was 8.5% compared with 2.7% countrywide, according to CBS data.
When Netanyahu took office in 2009, that growth had dropped to 5.3%, still almost triple that of the nation’s 1.8% growth rate. But it began to drop fairly quickly after that, hitting 4.1% in 2015 and 3.5% in 2016. According to CBS, the population growth rate remained at 3.5% in 2017, compared to the 2% national growth rate.
The bureau has no data for 2018, but the Yesha Council reported on Tuesday that the growth rate had dropped to 3% based on Interior Ministry figures. It often reports higher population numbers than the CBS, which is the ultimate authority.
But the ministry’s data similarly reflects the downward trend in the growth rate. According to the Yesha Council, the settler population growth rate was 5.1% in 2009 and 3.4% in 2017.
Yesha Council head Hananel Durani blamed the drop on low construction numbers, due in part to former US president Barak Obama’s no-tolerance policy on settlement building.
He called on Netanyahu to pick up the pace of building and planning so that the council can reach its goal of one million residents within the next decades.
“We must act to strengthen the building momentum in Judea, Samaria and the Jordan Valley,” said Tourism Minister Yariv Levin (Likud).
The settler population has risen dramatically, almost tripling from its population of 138,600 in 1995 to 413,400 in 2017, according to the CBS.
In 2009 when Netanyahu entered office, the population stood at 296,700. It then rose by 39%, with 413,400 people living in Judea and Samaria in 2017. The Yesha Council places the population at 435,708 in 2017 and 448,672 in 2018.
But after that, both databases show a fairly similar story with respect to the population increase each year.
In 2009, the population grew by 14,900 and in 2017 it rose by 14,100, according to the CBS. The smallest gain was in 2016, when it grew by only 13,300 people and the largest was in 2012, when the population rose by 16,200 people.
According to the council, the settler population rose by 15,158 in 2009 and by 14,299 in 2017. But it warned that it only rose by 12,964 in 2018.
The CBS data also reflects a shift in the composition of the population hike. Births accounted for 71% of population growth in 2009, but had risen to 81% in 2017.
The number of construction projects approved in the last two years, however, could push the growth rate back up, drawing an influx of new residents into Judea and Samaria.
According to Peace Now, Netanyahu’s government in the last two years issued tenders for 6,962 apartment units. The completion of those units would drive the population up by some 30,000 people, irrespective of new births.
Peace Now said in response that the settlers were the most favored group within Israeli society, with a growth rate that was still greater than the rest of the country.
“This year, the government approved plans and tenders for thousands of housing units in the settlements,” many of which were in communities that would likely need to be evacuated in any peace agreement with the Palestinians, the left-wing NGO stated.
The real reason for the decline is not lack of construction, but rather the lack of Israeli citizens willing to move to the West Bank, Peace Now said.
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