Again Israel was front and center on the web site of the New York Times, along with a picture and a headline: "Israel Plans 1,000 Housing Units in East Jerusalem."Read the article. The content is more modest by far than the headline or the prominent placement.It reports that the area at issue has been part of the Jerusalem municipality since 1967, and the Israeli government has emphasized that it would not freeze construction within the city. It also indicates that the trigger for the article was an official announcement required as an early step in a long process. It would open the prospect of new construction.
". . . for objections from the public. . . The plans gained initial approval in the district planning committee about two years ago, and it will be years until the new units are actually built."
The district planning committee is at least three levels down in the governmental hierarchy from the Minister of Interior, and four levels removed from the Cabinet and Prime Minister.The article also reports what sounds like a routine statement from an American government official, several notches below serious condemnation.
“We were deeply disappointed by the announcement of advance planning for new housing units in sensitive areas of East Jerusalem . . . It is counterproductive to our efforts to resume direct negotiations between the parties. . . . We have long urged both parties to avoid actions which could undermine trust, including in Jerusalem, and will continue to work to resume direct negotiations to address this and other final-status issues,”
The New York Times credits Ha''aretz with making a story out of an official announcement that most likely was buried in the notices about pending actions that government agencies are required to publish in a newspaper. Ha''aretz is even more assiduous than the New York Times in highlighting Israeli government abominations.What the article does not mention is that the announcement of pending approvals occurred in the context of a housing shortage, which has produced an increase in the costs of rentals and purchases. This in turn reflects a population increase of 69 percent since 1988. The opening of the former Soviet Union brought a million people to Israel, and the migration from Ethiopia brought another one hundred thousand. The people from the former Soviet Union, in particular, have done well. Their children are at the point where they are adding to the pressure for housing.The Bank of Israel reports that housing prices have increased by 20 percent over the past year. This continues a trend that has put housing cost and supply on the agenda of several government bodies and numerous politicians. The central bank has increased interest rates six times since the international economic crisis. That is one of steps being taken to discourage speculation in the housing market.The consensus of economic commentators is that price rises do not reflect a bubble caused by speculation, but a shortage of supply, which is impacting most clearly on young couples looking for an initial rental or purchase. The one thousand apartment units that have excited the New York Times are a long way from being approved, built, rented or sold. However, they are to be in the neighborhoods of Har Homa and Ramot, both places that serve middle and lower-middle income Israelis. Several items are in the air, whose near future is anybody''s guess.
- How important is the housing freeze, especially that in Jerusalem, with respect to the peace process? Is it the reason for Palestinian withdrawal from talks, or it is an excuse for the Palestinians'' conclusion that they are better off without those talks, or that they cannot make the compromises with Israel essential for a deal? Recall the pressure from extremists in Gaza, and the insistence on a housing freeze that came from Obama''s White House and added what may be a fatal ingredient to the peace process.
- Is the Obama administration willing to press Israel on these housing units, when the Palestinians already dithered with no action through nine of the ten months when Israel earlier froze construction? The White House would face the assertion of the Netanyahu government against another freeze, especially in Jerusalem. There is also that less than enthusiastic support shown by American voters earlier this month.
- The General Secretary of the United Nations has clucked his tongue against news of this housing. So far no one higher than the State Department spokesperson has publicly clucked a tongue in Washington.