Report: Israel's West Bank Settlement Activity Surged in 2019
Peace Now, a monitoring group opposing Israeli settlements, said on Tuesday that the West Bank saw a surge in settlements' construction in 2019.
The watchdog group released a report during which it highlighted the rise in Israel's average annual construction rate to 25%.
It attributed the surge in settlements' action to the lenient policy of US President Donald Trump since he took office in 2017.
"In my opinion, they´re trying to take advantage of the window of opportunity that they have under the Trump administration, knowing that it might change in a few months," said Hagit Ofran, a researcher for the group.
"There was no such supportive administration for the settlements previously, ever."
Most of the world considers the West Bank, captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war, to be occupied territory and Israeli settlements illegal obstacles to peace, the Associated Press (AP) reported.
The Palestinians, with wide international backing, seek all of the West Bank and east Jerusalem, also captured in 1967, as parts of a future independent state.
With nearly 500,000 settlers now living in the West Bank, and over 220,000 more in east Jerusalem, the Palestinians say the chances of establishing a state in those territories are quickly dwindling.
Last year, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government approved plans to build thousands of new homes, laying the groundwork for a sharp spike in construction in the coming years. That included an explosion in plans for new settlement projects approved early this year.
According to the Peace Now figures, Israel began construction on 1,917 new homes in the West Bank last year. That marked a slight dip from 2,100 construction starts in 2018. But overall, Israel has begun construction on an average of 2,267 homes per year since Trump took office, compared to an annual average of 1,807 units during the Obama administration.
That new annual construction could house roughly an addition 9,000 people per year in settlements, based on Peace Now's estimate of four people per a household.
According to AP, Peace Now gathers its data from official Israeli sources and by conducting aerial photography of settlements.
For his part, Oded Revivi, mayor of the settlement of Efrat and the chief foreign envoy of the Yesha settler council, said it was "no secret" that the Trump administration has been more tolerant of construction.
"If we still have the same players, Netanyahu and Trump, I predict the figures you will see in 2020, or more accurately 2021, will actually be higher than 2019," he said.
Netanyahu, fighting for his political life, took a number of pro-settlement steps while campaigning for re-election early this year.