Construction in the settlement on Modi'in Illit.
(photo credit: AMIR COHEN - REUTERS)
West Bank settler building dropped to a six-year low in the first quarter of 2018, even though the Trump Administration has appeared to turn a blind eye to such construction.
From January to March of this year, ground was broken on only 250 settler housing starts, according to data released Tuesday by the Central Bureau of Statistics.
It’s the lowest recorded number in any single quarter since 2012, when there were 284 starts in the second quarter and 273 in the fourth.
The drop is part of a downward spiral in settler housing starts since US President Donald Trump took office in January 2017.
In his first year as president, there was a 47% drop in settler housing starts. In 2016, under the disapproving glare of the Obama Administration, the CBS recorded 3,066 settler starts. That number went down to 1,643 starts in 2017.
UN Special Coordinator for the Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov told the UN Security Council in New York on Tuesday that 2018 CBS data, “was significantly lower than the average monthly rate during 2017  and 2016 .”
For the last six months, he said, “no advancements, approvals or tenders were made” in east Jerusalem.
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“I reiterate that all settlement activity is illegal under international law. It continues to undermine the practical prospects for establishing a viable Palestinian state and erodes remaining hopes for peace,” Mladenov said.
Israel has long argued that Jewish building in Judea and Samaria has no impact on the peace process and rightwing politicians hold that in the age of Trump, they can push forward with building projects.
But so far, such settlement activity is largely regulated to the drawing board, even though the issuance of tenders for settler building under Trump is higher than it has been in at least 15 years.
In 2017, the government issued 2,014 construction bids, known as tenders.
In addition, to date, it has already issued 2,014 tenders, according to left-wing group Peace Now.
Similarly plans for 3,080 homes were advanced or approved. This is on top of the plans for 6,742 homes that were advanced or approved last year, Peace Now has said.
While these numbers plans that have been moved forward is high, it still falls below the three-year period from 2012 to 2014.
Since Trump took office, Israel has also approved the creation of two new settlements.
Hagit Ofran of Peace Now said that in light of the tenders and approvals, she had no explanation for the drop, except to note that the number housing starts was down nationwide.
According to the CBS, there was a drop of 34% in national housing starts when comparing the first quarter of 2017 to the first quarter of this year.
The 250 settler housing starts mark a 36% drop from the 393 housing starts in the first quarter of 2017, and a 49% drop from the last quarter of 2017.
Ofran added that all that was needed was one or two building projects and the numbers would pick up.
The Yesha Council, an umbrella organization of municipal councils of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, said it was still studying the CBS numbers and did not yet have a response.
Separately, there was a slight rise in the number of housing finishes. According to the CBS, 484 settler homes were completed from January to March of this year, compared to 428 in the first quarter of 2017.
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