THE population of illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank increased by 3.4 per cent last year, with nearly half a million people now living in 150 Jewish-only settlements, Israeli data showed today.
The rise outstripped that of Israel’s own population, which grew by 1.9 per cent in the same period.
Jewish settlers in the occupied territory now number 463,901, while more than 300,000 settlers are living in occupied Jerusalem and its surroundings, according to the report.
Though the settlement programme is illegal under international law, Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu has been bolstered by support from US President Donald Trump.
Mr Netanyahu launched his election campaign last month by promising to annex all settlements in the West Bank “without exception.”
His rival in the March 2 poll, Blue & White party leader Benny Gantz, promised to annex the Jordan Valley region of the occupied territory, so election victory for either candidate is unlikely to bring any relief to the Palestinians.
The statistics confirming settlement expansion comes soon after the much anticipated announcement of Mr Trump’s so-called “deal of the century,” which has received global condemnation and sparked widespread protest including a general strike in the West Bank.
Palestinian leaders have described it as entrenching the Israeli “apartheid system,” dividing the occupied territories into a series of “Bantustans” under the control of Tel Aviv. As well as annexing large swathes of the West Bank, including the Jordan Valley, Jerusalem would become the undivided capital of Israel.
The Israeli government has been boosted by the announcement, escalating its attacks on Palestinians, including a series of missile strikes on targets in the Gaza Strip.
Today, soldiers destroyed pipelines that were supplying the northern Jordan Valley village of Bardala with irrigation water.
Deputy Mayor of the Bardala village council Ziad Sawafta reported that this was a regular occurrence, and that the village already suffered continuous water shortages as Israel refused to supply what was needed.
Stopping the supply for irrigation harms agricultural crops, which is the village’s main source of income, he explained.
Further south, Israeli soldiers told residents of Fasayil that they were going to destroy houses and barns in the village, claiming they had been built without the necessary permission.
Palestinians are rarely allowed construction permits in the Jordan Valley; 88 per cent of its land is classified as Area C, under full Israeli control.