The number of West Bank settler housing starts dropped by a third (32%) and the number of completed homes decreased even more (39%) in 2019, despite a surge in the advancement of building plans and the publication of tenders for such construction.
The numbers are based on data published by the Central Bureau of Statistics this week, which show that there was a greater drop in West Bank settler construction in 2019 compared to regions within sovereign Israel.
Nationwide, the construction numbers were also down but only slightly, with a 2.2% decrease in the amount of housing starts and a 0.1% drop in the number of finished homes, according to the CBS.
In actual numbers there were 1,528 settler housing starts in 2019 and 1,431 finishes.
Settler construction was at its lowest point in 2019 in seven years, according to the CBS, which showed that in 2012, there were 1,214 starts and 1,270 finishes.
The drop in settler construction occurred during an election year, when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spent time pledging to annex the West Bank settlements and touted his achievements with regard to those communities.
The low numbers continue a trend in which the actual settler starts were cumulatively down by 20.4% during the three years since US President Donald Trump took office, when compared to the last three years of former US president Barack Obama’s term.
During the Trump administration, from 2017-2019 there were 5,511 settler housing starts and 5,589 finishes. During the last three years of the Obama administration, from 2014 to 2016, ground was broken for 6,943 settler homes and construction was completed on 5,642.
One of the key data points with respect to settler housing starts occurred in 2016, the last year of Obama’s presidency, when the UN Security Council passed Resolution 2334 condemning settlement activity. It was also the year of the most bitter fighting between the US and Israel over that issue.
During that 2016 year, ground was broken for 3,276 new homes. The last time the number was that high or higher was in the year 2000, when there were 4,965 starts.
The left-wing NGO Peace Now also released its own report on settlement building this week, with data it collected independently of the CBS.
Peace Now is an alternative data source and arrives at its number with aerial photography, which allows it to count the number of housing starts. The left-wing NGO often collects that aerial footage in the summer.
The CBS, in contrast, relies on written data from building permits and other documents from ministries and local authorities, including the local and regional councils as well as the municipalities.
Construction increases are often reflected in the Peace Now data one year after the CBS records them. Therefore, much of the 2016 housing increase registered under the CBS can be found in the Peace Now's 2017 data, thereby reflecting a larger construction increase during the Trump years. Peace Now also includes illegal construction and modular housing in its calculations, whereas the CBS only records legal permanent construction.
Based on Peace Now data, the pace at which ground is broken for West Bank settler homes is almost the same over the last six years, irrespective of whether Trump or Obama was in office. The data showed 6,714 housing starts from 2014 to 2016 and 6,800 housing starts from 2017 to 2019.
In its report, however, Peace Now did a yearly average of housing starts during Trump’s first three years and compared it to the annual average during all eight of the Obama years, including the time when there was a 10-month moratorium on housing starts.
When calculated this way, Peace Now concluded that settlement building is higher on average under Trump than it was under Obama.
“Yearly average of construction since Trump’s administration (2,267 units) is 25% higher than the yearly average under Obama’s administration (1,807 units),” Peace Now stated in its report.