It is an odd day when the United Nations, Israel’s harshest critic, speaks of how the Jewish state is doing less, not more, when it comes to the actual building of settler homes in the West Bank.
Even stranger when that information is widely publicized for the first time to the United Nations Security Council in a webcast session designed to mark the one-year anniversary of the passage of Resolution 2334, which condemns Israeli settlement activity and rules that the Jewish Quarter in the Old City and the Western Wall do not belong to Israel.
The numbers bandied about by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman in 2017 have certainly been dizzying – with action being taken to advance the building of some 10,000 homes in West Bank settlements.
When it comes to real construction on the ground, however, building has been down so far this year, and the awarding of tenders has been almost nil.
Without the granting of such tenders, construction cannot begin on those units.
UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov dropped the information about the absence of awarded tenders – almost casually – toward the end of a report he had flown from Jerusalem to deliver to the Security Council.
First he spoke of a dramatic rise in settlement planning that has captivated headlines this year, including the construction of a new settlement – the first one in over 20 years – named Amihai.
“In Area C, the number of units advanced and approved more than doubled from 3,000 in 2016 to nearly 7,000 in 2017,” Mladenov said. “In east Jerusalem, the increase has similarly been from 1,600 in 2016 to some 3,100 in 2017,” he added.
And then he casually threw out data showing how such plans were stymied.
“The number of tenders, however, published and opened for bidding has decreased this year. In Area C, out of tenders for 3,200 units that were [published] in 2017, only two – for some 50 [total] housing units – have been [awarded] so far,” Mladenov said.
He added that in east Jerusalem this year, “for the first time since 2010... there have been no new tenders published.”
Just one day later, the Central Bureau of Statistics published data showing that in 2016, the last year of the Obama Administration, ground was broken for 3,027 homes.
It was the largest number of settler-housing starts in the West Bank since the year 2000, even though US President Barack Obama had a no-tolerance stance against construction.
Central Bureau of Statistics data comparing the first three quarters of 2017 with last year showed a 48% drop in housing starts, from 2,147 in 2016 down to 1,120 as of September.
The data backs up persistent complaints by settler leaders and right-wing politicians that not enough construction has been permitted, and points to a de facto freeze in tenders.
They are particularly frustrated because Trump, unlike his predecessor, has held that such building is not a stumbling block for peace.
Its a philosophy that has allowed Netanyahu to often speak about increasing settler building, particularly when he wants to curry favor with the right.
But settlers have not been so impressed. This week they called on Netanyahu and the Construction Ministry to award all of the published tenders, to allow for more housing starts.
According to the Yesha Council, the umbrella organization representing communities in Judea and Samaria, the data on housing starts from this year is “absurd” as is the red tape that has prevented the awarding of the tenders.
“True, the state published tenders for some 3,000 housing units, but it did not prepare the necessary materials,” to allow the contractors to bid on the projects, the council said.
Hagit Ofran of Peace Now said, however, that the delay was temporary, and not so significant.
According to Peace Now more tenders were published this year for West Bank settlements, than at any time since 2001. Last year, only 42 tenders were published.
What is significant is that once the tenders are awarded, settler building will significantly increase, Ofran said.
"The fact that the tenders have not been awarded does not mean that it is not going to happen. We often see delays,” she said.
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