Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu plans to visit the small settlement of Revava Sunday, just two days prior to the March 23 election, to bolster support on the Right as Jewish West Bank housing starts hit a ten-year low.
“I will not uproot 100,000 Jews for a fictitious peace,” Netanyahu said Tuesday at a campaign stop. In the last week he has increasingly focused on his position on West Bank settlements, a topic that is important for right-wing voters. On Sunday he made his first campaign trip during this fourth election cycle to the settlements, visiting the Gush Etzion, Binyamin and South Hebron Hills regions.
Netanyahu has pledged to increase settlement development and to stand strong against US President Joe Biden who is opposed to Jewish building in Judea and Samaria.
His statements follow a four-year spike in the approval of plans for building projects in the settlements under the former Trump Administration.
But those plans have yet to translate into an actual settler building surge on the ground.
Ground was broken for only 1,026 new settler homes in 2020 – the last year of former US president Donald Trump’s four-year term – according to data published last Thursday by the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS).
The last time the number was that low was in 2011, when there were 1,109 housing starts. In 2010 the number was even lower, with only 738 starts. That was the year US president Barack Obama pressured Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to impose a ten month moratorium on such activity from November 2009-September 2010.
It’s a 36% drop from the previous year, when ground was broken for 1,610 new settler homes and a 57% descent from 2018, when there were 2,397 such starts.
Overall, according to the CBS, there was a 31% dip in the number of settler housing starts during the four years Trump was in the White House when compared to the last four years of Obama’s time in the White House. Among the banner years under Obama was 2016, when there were 3,271 starts.
The number of completed settler homes, however, rose by 6% when comparing the last four years of the Obama administration with the four years Trump was in the White House. But even the numbers dipped in the last two years. In 2018, there were 2,459 completed settler homes. That dropped by 36% to 1,570 completed homes in 2019. But it rose in 2020 by 10% to 1,734 completed homes.
But the issues that have come up the most for Netanyahu is his failed pledge to annex West Bank settlements, a move which he told Ynet on Tuesday could only happen with the approval of the United States.
“Without the approval of the United States president, I will not be applying sovereignty – and I have said that from the first moment,” Netanyahu said.
Although Biden is vehemently opposed to any such plan, Netanyahu assured Ynet that the plan would still move forward.
“I still intend to do it,” Netanyahu said. He did not give a timeline for such sovereignty, but noted, “we have done many amazing things.”
The failed plan to apply sovereignty to West Bank settlements has been a thorn in his side throughout the fourth election campaign, because Netanyahu hinted at it in the first election cycle in 2019 and then more directly pledged to do it in the second and third cycles.
Netanyahu briefly secured US support for that annexation, but both the US and Israel suspended the plan in favor of the Trump administration’s Abraham Accords, under whose rubric four normalization deals were reached between the Jewish state and its Arab neighbors.
The heads of the right-wing parties of New Hope and Yamina have both said they would respect that suspension, but most of the politicians in these parties as wells the Religious Zionist Party have continued to press for sovereignty.
Just last week, Transportation Minister Miri Regev (Likud) spoke of the application of sovereignty.
Those that support annexation have believed that Netanyahu should ignore the US and apply sovereignty, just as former-Likud prime minister Menachem Begin did when it came to Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.
In his conversation with Ynet, Netanyahu, who was the last person in his party to support annexation, said that the idea for sovereignty had been his. He explained, however, that from the start he had always intended for the plan to occur with US consent.