For the second quarter in a row, there were almost no new housing starts in the West Bank settlements, according to numbers released Tuesday by the Central Bureau of Statistics.

The report of what is an historic absence of housing starts in Judea and Samaria comes on the eve of the start of direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. It is the first such meeting since talks broke down in December 2008. Halting settlement construction has been one of the key demands Palestinians have made of Israel.

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Initially, when the CBS reported its first quarter statistics at the end of May, its data showed no housing starts for the first quarter of this year. Since then the CBS has adjusted the numbers slightly, as it often does. Based on the new data there were only two new housing starts from January to March of this year. From April to June, the CBS reported only three new housing starts.

Overall, according to the CBS, there were a total of five new housing starts in the first two quarters of 2010, during which time the 10-month moratorium on such activity was in place.

The number marks a sharp contrast from the 673 new starts that occurred in that same period last year when there was no moratorium.

The dramatic drop to almost zero housing starts runs counter to the trend in the rest of the country, which saw a 17 percent increase in housing starts during that time.

Separately, there was also a drop of 12 percent in the number of new apartments which were completed in West Bank settlements in the first two quarters of 2010, even though there was only a two percent decrease country wide during that same time.

From January to the end of June of this year 796 new apartment units were completed in West Bank settlements, compared with the 906 apartment units which were finished in the same period last year.

According to the moratorium, work can continue on settlement homes which had a foundation as of November 26, when the ban on new construction began.

It was estimated that there were some 3,000 apartment units which were under construction at that time.

Data for the first month of the moratorium in December is not available from the CBS.

Overall in 2009, there were 1,888 housing starts and 2,070 apartment units completed.

In a report that it issued earlier this month, Peace Now, a grass roots group which monitors settlement construction, said that based on aerial surveys it had taken of West Bank settlements, there had actually been 295 new housing starts in Judea and Samaria in the first seven months of the moratorium, from December and until June.



It did acknowledge that the number was less than half of what it would have been without the moratorium.

The CBS said at the time that it stood by its data which was compiled from multiple sources such as the Ministry of Housing and Construction, planning committees, regional and local councils, contractors and realtors.

However, the CBS acknowledged that it did not have the resources to do aerial surveys.

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