Migrants boost Jewish settlers
Statistics counter Israeli argument
MAALEH ADUMIM, West Bank - Israelis moving to the West Bank accounted for more than one-third of settler population growth in recent years, government statistics show, undercutting Israel’s argument that it is continuing settlement construction only to accommodate growing families already living there.
The “natural growth’’ rationale for building on land the Palestinians claim for a state has vaulted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu into an unusually vocal and public clash with the Obama administration, which has come out strong against continued settlement expansion.
Settlement construction had been expected to be the focus of a meeting in Paris today between Netanyahu and America’s top Mideast envoy, George Mitchell. But the meeting was postponed, and an Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Israel sought more time to iron out differences with the US administration, including those over settlements.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak would instead meet with Mitchell next week.
Opponents say the government invokes “natural growth’’ as a cover to build thousands of houses across the West Bank.
“The Israelis are playing a game of deception by what they call natural growth,’’ said Yasser Abed Rabbo, an aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Data from Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics supports that argument, showing that in 2007, 36 percent of all new settlers had moved from Israel or abroad.
More recent data is not yet available, but there are few reasons to think Israel has reversed the trend, said Hagit Ofran, a settlement specialist for Peace Now, a settlement watchdog group.
Amid the influx of people drawn to cheaper housing in settlements, construction has continued - more than 5,500 new apartments have been completed over the past three years in the West Bank, bureau figures show.