A girl holds an Israeli flag on a hilltop near the Maaleh Adumim settlement.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Plans for new homes in West Bank settlements were advanced at a faster pace in the first three months of 2016 than in the previous year, according to Peace Now.
It based its statement on data it collected from the records of the High Planning Council for Judea and Samaria for both years.
In the first three months of this year plans were advanced for 499 new units in West Bank settlements. This made up 72% of the plans for 621 new settlers homes that were advanced in all of 2015. In the first quarter of 2015, plans were advanced for only 115 new units, only 23% of the number of homes for which plans were advanced in the first three months of 2016.
The same pattern appeared when it came to the retroactive authorization of illegal homes in West Bank settlements. In many cases these were homes that were built without the proper planning process and they are only now coming before the council to be permitted.
The number of retroactive legalizations — 175 — was higher in the first quarter of 2016, than in the first three months of last year when only 79 illegal homes were authorized. Overall, in 2015, 1,044 illegal homes were retroactively authorized, according to Peace Now.
The plans were advanced at three different meetings of the High Planning Council for Judea and Samaria in January, February and March.
The number of new homes for 11 different settlements detailed in the plans are as follows; Etz Efraim (34), Rechalim (36), Alon Shvut (60), Ofarim (30), Rotem (164), Oranit (24), Alfei Menashe (24), Tene (7), Kiryat Arba (24), Ma’aleh Adumim (46) and Talmon (50).
Five of the communities are considered to be “isolated settlements” because they are located in areas of the West Bank that are outside the boundaries of the security barrier.
Hagit Ofran of Peace Now said the numbers show that the supposed “freeze” in planning, was “not a freeze at all. Quietly and behind the scenes, West Bank construction is being promoted, including in isolated settlements,” Ofran said.
“This distances us from the possibility of a two-state solution,” Ofran added.
But Yigal Dilmoni, the deputy head of the Council of Jewish Communities of Judea and Samaria, said that the 499 number is small in comparison to the real needs of their communities. The council should be advancing plans for thousands of new homes, not hundreds, he said.
Such construction, particularly in the city of Ariel, would help fix the housing shortage, particularly in the center of the country, Dilmoni said.
In addition, he added, the plans that were advanced were old ones, which in some cases have been expanded. “There is very little that is new here,” he said.
Data on the actual number of housing starts and completions for the first quarter of 2016 are not due from the Central Bureau of Statistics until May or June.
But CBS data form 2015 showed that housing starts in West Bank settlements rose by 26% in 2015, when compared to the previous year. Housing finishes in in the settlements year went up by 25% when compared to 2015.
The spike was due in large part to increased building in the five largest West Bank settlements; Mod’in Illit, Beitar Illit, Ma’aleh Adumim, Ariel and Givat Ze’ev. Building in these five communities made up 48% of the starts and 55% of the completions in West Bank settlements in 2015.
Settlement activity is one of the hot button issues when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Palestinians insist that it is a stumbling bloc to the peace process. Israel dismisses that claim and argues that the peace process would move forward if only the Palestinians would return to the negotiating table.
Just last month the United Nations Human Rights Council passes a resolution that condemned settlement activity and mandated the creation of a data base for all companies located in those communities and or who do business with them.
The Palestinians are in the process of preparing a United Nations Security Council resolution condemning West Bank settlement activity.