Study: 15% of West Bank Settlers Are American

New research has revealed that 15 percent of the total Jewish settler population in the occupied West Bank are American nationals.

In a presentation to promote a forthcoming book, Oxford University scholar Sara Yael Hirschhorn revealed that approximately 60,000 Americans Jews live in Jewish outposts out of a total population of approximately 400,000 settlers in occupied territory, excluding East Jerusalem. The figure for the number of American nationals living in the West Bank was previously unknown.

"This provides hard evidence that this constituency is strikingly over-represented, both within the settler population itself and within the total population of Jewish American immigrants in Israel," she said at the Limmud conference in Jerusalem, reported Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz.

While it is unclear whether this figure represents a distinct rise or fall in the number of American Jews living in the occupied West Bank, due to a lack of statistics, the number of West Bank settlers has risen from 110,000 to around 400,000 since the Oslo Peace Accords were signed in 1993, a 264% increase.

Israeli settlement watchdog Peace Now said that the new figures revealed that the settlement enterprise in the West Bank was not only an internal issue but "an international problem."

"Unfortunately, while the Obama administration has been persistently vocal against settlement developments, some 60,000 American citizens are taking an active part in an attempt to make the two state solution impossible," says Anat Ben Nun, Peace Now's director of development and external relations.

"With no possibility for real bilateral negotiations in sight, the American administration must be actively involved in promoting a solution to the Israeli Palestinian conflict through the international arena," she adds.

A section of American Christians, both conservative and fundamentalist, hold close links to Israel's settlement enterprise, with a number of American Christian charities shown to be bank-rolling the expansion of West Bank settlements. Right-wing Christians in America and Israeli settlers have similar interpretations of biblical history—in 2006, the evangelical Rev. John Hagee of San Antonio said that American Christian support for Israel was "God's foreign policy."

U.S. presidential candidates have even visited Israeli settlements in the West Bank to boost funds for their campaigns. Earlier this month, Republican candidate and Evangelical Christian Mike Huckabee visited the northern West Bank settlement of Shiloh for a campaign fundraiser.

However, Hirschhorn says her research, which took place over a period of 10 years, contradicts the belief that many American citizens emigrated to Israel because of their Right-wing beliefs, ultra-Orthodox religion or because of a lack of opportunities in the U.S.

"What my studies reveal is that they were young, single, highly-educated—something like 10 percent of American settlers in the occupied territories hold PhDs, they're upwardly mobile, they're traditional but not necessarily Orthodox in their religious practice," she said, according to Haaretz. "Most importantly, they were politically active in the leftist socialist movements in the U.S. in the 1960s and 70s and voted for the Democratic Party prior to their immigration to Israel."

She added that the mainstream picture of the American settlers she studied "is one of young, idealistic, intelligent and seasoned liberal Americans who were Zionist activists, and who were eager to apply their values and experiences to the Israeli settler movement."

The U.S. State Department opposes the expansion of Israel's settlements and its official position on the outposts, considered illegal under international law, is that they are illegitimate. In 2013, the U.S. secretary of state, John Kerry, said the U.S. has "always considered the settlements to be illegitimate" while U.S. president, Barack Obama, said in the same year that continued expansion of the outposts did not "advance the cause of peace" between the two parties.

Elsewhere, John Gatt-Rutter, the European Union's outgoing envoy to the Palestinian territories, said on Thursday that the 28-member bloc would press ahead with steps to prevent further expansion of Israeli settlements.

While Gatt-Rutter did not provide a timeframe, he said that "there is support within the union to go on" with measures against the settlements, adding that there are "more tools" that the union can use.