Palestinian laborers work at a construction site in a settlement near Jerusalem .
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Settlement construction in the West Bank rose sharply in the first quarter of 2015, with a 219 percent spike in completed housing and a 93% rise in starts, according to data released by Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics on Tuesday.
The increase that occurred just prior to the March 17 election was not reflected in the CBS data on nationwide building, which showed that completed housing went up by 15.5 % and the starts dropped by 2%. The report, which focused mostly on the housing situation across the country, was released in the midst of an increased push by the international community to boycott Israel over the issue of settlement construction.
“Israel does not have to be afraid to build in Judea and Samaria. When Israelis are absent, terror reigns,” said Yigal Dilmoni, the deputy head of Council of Jewish Communities of Judea and Samaria.
“We are please that there is growth and we are happy for every home that is built,” Dilmoni said.
“But, unfortunately, when you look at the numbers and not the percentages, we are talking about a small number of homes,” he added.
In terms of real numbers, according to the CBS, less building happens in Judea and Samaria than anywhere else in the country.
The 529 completed settler homes in the first quarter of the year made up only 4.7 % of the country’s 11,031 units that were finished in that time period, the CBS data showed.
Similarly, 566 housing starts in the settlements represented only 4.6% of the nationwide construction of 12,387 units in the first quarter of 2015.
The dramatic increase of new settler building reflects the low rate of such construction in 2014, when there were 1,399 starts compared with the 2,861 new units the previous year.
In the first quarter of 2013, there were 1,007 settler starts, which then dropped sharply by 242% to 294 new units in the first three months of 2014, before rising again this year.
When it comes to completed housing, the numbers have been slowly rising since 2011, which saw 1,682 completed settler homes . The numbers then dropped to 1,270 in 2012, but rose to 1,454 in 2013 and 1,580 in 2014.
The 166 completed homes in the first quarter of 2014 were the lowest data point. Construction was higher throughout the year, with the completion of 481 settler homes in the last quarter.
Peace Now executive director Yariv Oppenheimer, whose NGO calls for a halt to settlement building, attacked the upward construction trend.
“We can see the fingerprints of [former Construction] Minister URA Ariel (Bayit Yehudi) and the direction the last government took not to promote the peace process but to promote the settlement activity.
“It shows that the complaints about the silent freeze in settler activity is just a way for the settlers to pressure the government to build more, and has nothing to do with reality,” Oppenheimer said.
In Herzliya on Tuesday night, former defense minister Ehud Barak called on the government to stop building outside the settlement blocs, a move that he said endangered the future of those large Jewish population centers in the West Bank.
During the first quarter of 2015, 50% of completed housing – 269 homes – was in the largest West Bank settlements: Modi’in Illit, Betar Illit, Ariel, Ma’aleh Adumim, and Givat Ze’ev.
Similarly, 53% of the housing starts – 302 new units – were in four of those communities, all of which are considered settlement blocs. There were no starts in Ma’aleh Adumim.
Dilmoni said that the data confirmed what he already knew, that the government is limiting housing growth in many of the settlements by freezing tenders and not approving enough projects.
There is a housing shortage in many of the settlements because the pace of building falls below the rate of population growth, he added.