Israel is supposed to have frozen construction in settlements according to the internationally backed "road map" peace plan, but Israel insists it must build to accommodate natural growth, despite the plan's ban.
One portion of the growth in the West Bank was an influx from Gaza. Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip and dismantled its 21 settlements there in 2005, and most of the 8,500 settlers moved to the West Bank, according to settler leaders.
Also Tuesday, Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz ordered a halt to construction of a 30-kilometer (18-mile) stretch of the separation barrier Israel is building along the West Bank, his ministry said. The section is in the sparsely populated southern part of the West Bank in the Judean Desert.
Peretz called the halt to allow examination of environmental aspects of the construction, the ministry said. Environmentalists warned that the barrier would interfere with movement of animals in the desert.
Israel began building the barrier in 2001 after a wave of Palestinian suicide bombings carried out by infiltrators from the West Bank. However, a series of court cases has forced changes in the route and delays in construction.
Because the barrier dips into the West Bank in some places to place main settlements on the "Israeli" side, Palestinians have denounced it as a land grab, also cutting them off from the Arab section of Jerusalem.