'295 homes begun since freeze'

Peace Now claims settlers violated freeze in West Bank.

311_Silwan houses (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
311_Silwan houses
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
In defiance of the moratorium on new housing construction, settlers have begun work on 295 new permanent homes in the first half of 2010, according to a report published Monday by Peace Now.
Settlers said the report was false.
RELATED:Danon: Settlers will start building the moment freeze endsMeridor wants building post-freeze“I wish it were right, but unfortunately the freeze is meticulously implemented,” said Dani Dayan, who heads the Council for Jewish Communities of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip.
Peace Now, in turn, said its data was very solid. The nongovernment group, which monitors Jewish West Bank construction, based its numbers on data it collected through the use of aerial photographs as well as planning data and permits.
At a Tel Aviv press conference Hagit Ofran, who heads the group’s settlement watch team, compared aerial photographs taken of settlements in December 2010 with shots of the same spots from May and July.
Highlighted in the photos were construction sites that stood empty in December, but which had foundations and in some cases more substantial building by May or July.
“It’s a significant drop in new housing construction,” said Ofran, who credited the 10-month moratorium on new construction with cutting the number of new housing starts by more than half.
At the same time, she said, the moratorium has not halted new settlement construction.
In addition, she said, settlers were able to place 167 caravans in West Bank settlements, an act that also runs counter to the moratorium.
Overall, she said, Peace Now calculated that new work had begun on 603 new Jewish West Bank residential units, including the 167 caravans.
Ofran estimated 141 homes belonged to the group of 492 units exempted from the freeze, because their approvals were given so close to the deadline.
It meant, she said, that according to Peace Now’s calculation, there were 462 moratorium violations.
The Defense Ministry, she said, has not significantly moved against these homes, even though it has sworn to take down construction that violates the freeze.
Under the terms of the freeze work can continue on 3,000 apartments, out of which she estimates 2,000 are now under construction.
But according to the moratorium there should be no new housing starts or caravans, she added.
When it comes to enforcing the moratorium the Defense Ministry has focused mostly on removing modular construction, and has not significantly gone after violations of permanent housing, Ofran said.
She could not cite the exact number of illegal construction projects taken down by the Civil Administration, but said it was minimal. The most significant demolition activity was four housing starts it destroyed in the Shavei Shomron settlement, she said.
Among the list of settlements with illegal new housing starts, she said, were the communities of Modi’in Illit, Givat Ze’ev, Mitzpe Yericho, Ariel, Ma’aleh Adumim, Kfar Etzion, Kfar Adumim, Itamar, Eli, Oranit, Beitar Illit and Elkana.
Already in February, Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilna’i said that 28 settlements had violated the freeze on new housing.
Still, the Peace Now data runs counter to numbers published by the Central Bureau of Statistics at the end of May.
According to the CBS there were no new housing starts in the settlements in the first quarter of 2010.
“We think our numbers are right,” a CBS spokesperson said, adding that it compiled its data from multiple sources, such as the Ministry of Housing and Construction, planning committees, regional and local councils, contractors and realtors.
But both she and Ofran noted that the CBS did not go out into the field itself, nor did it collect aerial shots as Peace Now had.
Ofran added that there could be some discrepancies in the data, but that overall it showed new building had continued.
But not everywhere, she said.
The Barkan settlement halted a project of 62 apartment units, Neria stopped a project of 100 and Sha’are Tikva halted work on 60 homes.
Separately on Monday, Peace Now announced that it planned to launch an aggressive campaign in favor of extending the moratorium, which is due to expire on September 26.
Peace Now is treating that date like an election, said the group’s executive director, Yariv Oppenheimer.
“This isn’t a technical issue, it’s a political decision,” said Oppenheimer.
“The campaign we are launching says that September is the time for Israel to make a decision. You cannot say settlements and peace,” said Oppenheimer.
Israel has to end the occupation and enter a political process with the Palestinians or go the path of settler leaders and more right-wing Likud members, such as Danny Danon and Tzipi Hotovely, said Oppenheimer.
The Civil Administration and the Prime Minister’s Office declined to comment.