So who are the settlers?

"We are not settlers," was the blunt response of the press officer for the Beitar Illit local council, when asked to comment on the town's status.

"This is just the place where the government decided to build new housing for the Charedi community. We would have gone wherever they would have given us land."

Beitar Illit, a 10-minute drive south of Jerusalem and just over the Green Line, is today the third largest settlement on the West Bank, with 33,692 residents as of last month, and will outpace mainly secular Ma'aleh Adumim soon, to become the second largest. The most populous settlement is Modi'in Illit, with 39,950 mainly strictly Orthodox residents.

Latest figures for the settlements show that 290,224 Israelis live there, up by almost 8,000 from those issued only six months ago.

This, however, does not include 200,000 Israelis in Jerusalem neighbourhoods across the Green Line.
Almost half the growth was due to hundreds of families taking advantage of the cheap new housing in the two Charedi settlements, which will soon make up a third of the settlement population.

The other two-thirds can be broadly divided between ideologues and "standard of living" settlers.

Most of the latter, whether in Ma'aleh Adumim, essentially a low-income suburb of Jerusalem, or the upper middle-class secular Har Adar residents - half of whom vote for Labour or the left-wing Meretz party - believe that in any future peace deal, the government will tweak borders to include settlements near the Green Line.

This is also the belief of the residents of Beitar and Modi'in Illit. If not, they will have to be compensated, but they will go quietly.

This leaves about 70,000 Israelis who are proud to call themselves settlers, and who tend to live in strategic locations, thwarting any territorial compromise on the West Bank.

The younger generation has become steadily radicalised and its members are likely to be the sticking point in any possible peace treaty.

    Last updated: 12:28pm, July 31 2008