The number of settler housing starts in the West Bank skyrocketed by 141.5 percent in the first half of 2013, compared to the same period last year, according to Central Bureau of Statistics data released on Thursday.
The jump from last year is so great that the work that began on 1,461 homes during the first six months of 2013 has surpassed the 1,089 starts registered by CBS for all of 2012.
However, housing starts throughout the country including the West Bank dropped by 5.9% in the first half of 2013, when compared with the same period in 2012, according to CBS.
The report of increased construction in settlements comes in the midst of renewed peace negotiations – aimed at making a deal within nine months – between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. But the time period in which the spike occurred, pre-dates the renewed peace process which began at the end of July.
Palestinians have argued that continued building in the settlements jeopardizes the peace process.
Israel, in turn, has insisted that settlement building could continue during the peace talks and that such construction has nothing to do with negotiations. The bulk of the building occurs in settlement blocs that, it expects, would remain part of Israel in any final-status agreement.
Israel has refused so far to freeze any kind of settlement activity, as it did in the end of November 2009, when it imposed a ten month moratorium on new settler housing starts.
According to CBS, in 2008, during the Annapolis peace conference, work began on 2,332 West Bank homes, and in 2009, prior to the moratorium, when the Annapolis process and peace talks in general were halted, construction began on 1,963 more units.
That number declined by 62% to 738 in 2010, the year of the moratorium, which ended that September, according to CBS figures.
CBS data reveal that although the number rose by 50%, to 1,108 homes in 2011, it was still far below the 2009 and 2008 figures. In addition, ground broken for housing units in 2012 was consistent with 1,089 settler starts that year.
The decrease in the last three years was due in large part to the absence of tenders for West Bank housing during the first two years of Binyamin Netanyahu’s premiership.
He began publishing tenders in 2011, in response to Palestinian moves toward unilateral statehood and the murder of five members of the Fogel family in Itamar by PA terrorists in March of that year.
The absence of tenders caused a sharp fall in starts in the three largest West Bank settlements – Modi’in Illit, Beitar Illit and Ma’aleh Adumim.
Prior to 2010, building in those cities over many years accounted for half of the settlement growth.
In particular, there was a drop for public housing in West Bank settlements. In 2009, 602 of the housing starts were for public housing, compared with 119 in 2010, 91 in 2011 and 108 in 2012.
The resumption included public housing, for which there were 757 starts in the first half of this year.
In 75% of the cases where ground was broken in the first half of 2013 – a total of 1,100 – the construction projects were in the five largest settlements, with 176 in Ariel, 272 in Beitar Illit, 219 in Givat Ze’ev, 278 in Modi’in Illit and 155 in Ma’aleh Adumim, according to the CBS.
The number of finished settler homes has risen this year, from 329 in the first half of 2012 to 628 in 2013.