Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria are growing at a rate close to 60 percent higher than Israel’s overall population growth.
By Associated Press and United with Israel Staff
On Tuesday, a group dedicated to strengthening Jewish life in Judea and Samaria said the number of people living in Israeli communities in those areas surged at a much faster rate than the overall Israeli population last year and predicted even more rapid growth thanks to the policies of the Trump administration.
Baruch Gordon, director of an organization that provides precise Jewish population statistics for Judea and Samaria based on data from Israel’s Ministry of the Interior, said the White House has created a much friendlier environment for the Jewish communities, clearing the way for a surge in construction in the coming years.
“It’s just simply opened up. There’s no longer this cloud looming over it,” Gordon said.
The report is sponsored by Bet El Institutions, a prominent organization that has ties to some of President Donald Trump’s closest Mideast advisers, including U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, who is a former president of the organization.
Trump’s chief Mideast adviser, son-in-law Jared Kushner, has donated to the group, and even Trump once sent a donation.
The latest data shows the population in Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria grew to 449,508 as of Jan. 1, up 3.3 percent from 435,159 people a year earlier.
In comparison, Israel’s overall population grew 1.9 percent last year to 8.907 million people, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics.
The Interior Ministry was not immediately able to confirm the scores of figures, but confirmed it had been in touch with Gordon’s group and said the numbers appeared authentic.
The data showed robust growth in Jewish communities across the board, from large towns located near Israeli population centers to isolated communities deep inside Judea and Samaria.
Gordon cited several reasons for the rapid growth. An estimated two-thirds of the population in Judea and Samaria are religious Jews, who tend to have larger families. In addition, he said more affordable housing prices have lured many young families.
But he also said the Trump administration’s attitude toward Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria is also having an effect.
President Barack Obama, like a string of Republican and Democratic predecessors, opposed Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria as obstacles to peace and put heavy pressure on Israel to halt construction.
Trump, in contrast, has done little to stop the construction. While urging restraint at times, the White House has otherwise remained quiet as Israel has pressed forward with numerous developments. This, in effect, has given Israel a green light to lay the groundwork for a surge in construction that should materialize over the next year or two, Gordon said.
“Since the change of the U.S. administration, the atmosphere for construction permits has become much easier. They’re being given with greater ease,” he said.
“I think possibly the next report and certainly in the ones after that, I think we’ll start to see a huge surge in the numbers here,” he added.
The figures did not include data for eastern portions of Jerusalem, where well over 200,000 Israeli Jews now live.
The Palestinians claim both Judea and Samaria and eastern portions of Jerusalem, areas Israel won in the 1967 Mideast war, for a future independent state.
A U.S. Embassy official said Trump has made his position on settlements “clear” and has received Israeli pledges to take his concerns into consideration.
“The administration is firmly committed to pursuing a comprehensive peace between Israelis and Palestinians,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity under diplomatic protocol.
According to the extreme leftist group Peace Now, which opposes Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria, the Trump effect “cannot be seen at this time” because of the lag time between approval of permits and actual construction.
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