Palestinian laborers work at a construction site in a settlement near Jerusalem .
The number of housing- starts in West Bank settlements for the first quarter of 2016 dropped by 53 percent compared to the same period last year, according to a new report on Israeli construction by the Central Bureau of Statistics.
It was the sharpest drop in housing starts for any region. Nationwide, the decline was 8.1%.
The ground broken in settlements for 331 new homes reflected only 3% of the 11,813 housing starts nationwide, according to data the CBS published last week. During the same period in 2015, the 705 settler housing starts represented 5% of the 12,860 throughout the country.
The numbers were particularly low in the five largest West Bank settlements – Modi’in Illit, Beitar Illit, Ma’aleh Adumim, Ariel and Givat Ze’ev – which made up only 39% of all such starts in settlements. Typically, these five communities make up at least 50% of all new settlement housing starts.
The report comes amid a persistent call by settler leaders and right-wing politicians for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to advance more plans and approve more housing for the settlements.
“The freeze in planning is now being felt in the field,” said Yigal Dilmoni, deputy head of the Council of Jewish Communities of Judea and Samaria.
Plans are not being approved, and tenders are not being issued, he said on Sunday. “We have been warning about the government’s policy in this regard for a long time,” he added.
The settlers and rightwing politicians are particularly concerned by the drop in construction in Ma’aleh Adumim, where no ground was broken for new homes at all, although there was work going on for 144 new homes.
Separately, the number of completed homes in Judea and Samaria rose by 14.9% in the first quarter of 2016, for a total of 610 units, compared with 531 such structures in the first three months of 2015. The bulk of that building, 67%, was in the five largest settlements.
The spike in the number of finished homes ran counter to the country-wide trend, which, aside from Jerusalem, saw a 15.4% drop. In the capital, there was a slight rise of 1.2%.
The number of finished homes in settlements in the first quarter of 2016 made up 6.3% of the 9,643 homes finished nationwide.
Last year saw the highest number of finishes (2,042) since 2009. In 2014, the number of finished homes stood at 1,615, up from 1,460 in 2013, and 1,270 in 2012.
Settler construction is one of the red-button issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Palestinians claim that it is a stumbling block to any peace agreement and have called on Israel to halt and reverse such activity.
Israel, in turn, has argued that it has no bearing on the ability of two sides to sit down and negotiate a final status agreement for a twostate solution.
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