The population growth rate of Jews in Israel was about 6 percent when today's voters were being born, meaning that some of the additional 11 percent reflects physical relocation to the settlements. Of course, the "natural growth" of the settlements may exceed the population growth rate of the average Israeli Jewish family: Religious families in Israel tend to be larger, and in the West Bank younger, than the general population, so it is logical that their growth rate is higher. But that does not change the bottom line: Settlements beyond the Green Line and outside the major blocs grew by over a tenth during Netanyahu's recent term of office.
As we have noted, there is no one definition of settlement "blocs" -- but that turns out not to matter much either. By counting only towns that are west of the existing security barrier, one reaches the same results: 17 percent growth. Similarly, by looking only at towns that were offered by former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in the 2008 Annapolis negotiations, the growth in the number of voters remains as high.
Is a 10 or 11 percent growth rate high? We looked at the Olmert years for a comparison. During Olmert's three-year tenure (2006 to 2009), the number of eligible voters in those very same towns grew by 35 percent. That was more than double the current annual rate and the lower recent rate may reflect, for example, the partial moratorium on settlement construction imposed by the Netanyahu government in 2010. The growth during the Olmert years is remarkable, considering that his campaign agenda (hitkansut, usually translated as "consolidation") was a second disengagement and withdrawal from much of the West Bank area beyond the fence. It is also noteworthy that some of this faster growth comes from towns in which the majority of votes went in 2013 to center-left parties that advocate for a two-state solution (Almog, Niran, Gilgal) or to ultra-Orthodox parties that generally accept the idea of partition (Asfar, Ma'ale Amos). Those voters are Israelis who chose to move into settlements for non-ideological reasons and would presumably be willing to move if compensated.
The total number of eligible voters in settlements beyond the security fence in January 2013 stood at 43,155. Both the Yesha council website and data from the 2008 Israeli census indicate that the median age is 18 in the Judea and Samaria communities, which means that the actual population is about double the number of voters.
Ironically, both the Palestinian Authority and the Yesha council have chosen a strategy of supersizing the numbers -- the Palestinians to create a sense of urgency ("the window for peace is closing"), and the settlers a sense of irreversibility ("it's too late to move so many settlers out"). Scare tactics and alarmism, however, will only stifle productive debate and can lead to policies grounded in misinformation.
In recent years, Netanyahu has made several statements that endorsed a two-state solution and showed he understood that a peace agreement with the Palestinians would require removal of numerous settlements. If the guiding Israeli principle remains a two-state solution, partition of the West Bank, and separation from the Palestinians, it is especially hard to see the logic in allowing further blending of the populations. The roughly 80,000 Jews who live in the places included in the 2008 offer by Olmert still remain a drop in a sea of Palestinians. Perhaps the settler movement should reconsider its focus on maintaining and expanding that small population, which is only 3 to 5 percent of the number of Palestinians living in the West Bank. An internal debate over possible overstretching, and consideration of focusing their efforts on second-tier goals -- such as the Negev and the Galilee, where the Jewish population is thin, and successive governments have tried to increase it -- might be worthwhile.
The policy of several consecutive Israeli governments has been to seek a two-state solution -- but Israeli resources are still being put into the expansion of the very settlements that would have to be removed to consummate such a deal. How many resources, and how much are those settlements growing? It is hard to come up with hard numbers, and we acknowledge the limitations to our methodology. But the very fact that facts are hard to come by is significant: Transparency won't end the debate on settlement expansion, but it would make that debate better informed and far more intelligent.