The newly established settlement of Amichai in the West Bank. (Courtesy).
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The number of new housing units constructed in West Bank settlements dropped dramatically in 2017, the first year of US President Donald Trump’s administration.
The drop of 47% is well above the national average of 14%, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics, which on Tuesday published its brief annual construction report.
Right-wing politicians and settlers had anticipated a surge in his first year, given that he did not have the same no-tolerance policy toward settlement building as did his predecessor, Barack Obama.
The advancement of settlement plans doubled last year, and Israel also took the unusual step of approving two new settlements. But in terms of actual building on the ground, the story looks different.
According to data published Tuesday by the Central Bureau of Statistics, ground was broken on 1,626 settler homes last year, just over half the figure of 3,069 in 2016.
Across the country, the number of housing finishes was up by 3% – but in the West Bank it was down by almost 4%, from 1,826 in 2016 to 1,759 in 2017.
Yesha Council deputy head Yigal Dilmoni blamed the drop on the lack of planning for settler homes during the final years of the Obama administration. “It’s impact can still be felt on the ground,” he said.
“We anticipate there will be an improvement in the coming years,” he added.
Israel can resolve its housing shortage by increasing building in West Bank, particularly in areas near the country’s center, Dilmoni said.
Hagit Ofran, of the left-wing Peace Now, said that “last year” was extraordinary when it came to settlement development.
“I do not see the numbers as a sign of declining settlement construction,” Ofran said. “There are concerning developments taking place separate from the construction starts,” she added.
This includes the approval of a new settler housing complex in Hebron and the construction of by-pass roads necessary for increased development, she said, adding that legislation has also been passed that pushes Israel in the direction of de facto annexation and will also lead to additional settlement development.
Settlers on Tuesday warned that a Civil Administration of Judea and Samaria strike that had been going on for over a week, as well as lack of proper staffing and low pay, were hampering settlement development and could lead to a “technical settlement freeze.”
The Yesha Council said it feared these issues would lead to the cancellation of the quarterly meeting of the Higher Planning Council for Judea and Samaria set for April.
On Tuesday the council, headed by Hananel Durani, penned an urgent letter to Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman and asked him to pour more resources into the Civil Administration’s planning department to avert such a freeze.