Ariel building project to be unfrozen

Defense Ministry tells Post other minor settlement bloc projects will also receive approval.

settlement Building248.88 (photo credit: )
settlement Building248.88
(photo credit: )
Ariel Mayor Ron Nachman has waited for two weeks for the Defense Ministry to make good on its verbal promise to him that a project of 48 homes for his settlement city - frozen in November - would be allowed to proceed. On Sunday, a spokesman for Defense Minister Ehud Barak confirmed to The Jerusalem Post that the 48 units would be un-frozen, and that authorization had in fact been in given for a number of minor scattered projects in the settlement blocs. Included in that list was authorization for 52 homes in Ma'aleh Adumim and 32 in each of the settlements of Betar Illit, Sha'arei Tikva and Elkana. But settlement leaders said these projects were minor compared to the real needs of their communities, where lack of construction permits had hampered growth for years, even though the overall settler population growth is rising at least three times as fast as the rest of the country. "The situation is terrible," said Nachman, who added that growth in his city, located in Samaria 16 kilometers over the green line, has slowed to a trickle. Ariel, home to both a secular and religious population, is the fourth largest West Bank settlement, even though its population growth is well below the overall settler average for 2007 of 5.6 percent, according to the Interior Ministry. In the last four years Ariel's population has risen by only 1.9%, from 17,555 in 2004 to 17,893 in 2007, according to numbers from the Interior Ministry. Outside of these 48 homes, which were approved in September, he said, no project has been authorized for the last four years. "I need between 100 to 150 homes a year," Nachman said. But his pleas to the government have gone unheeded. While many other large settlement cities have complained about lack of new construction permits in the last half year, Nachman said his city has had trouble getting them since the mid-1990s. To make up for that gap and just to keep pace with what natural growth should have been, he said, he would now need 300 new permits a year. In the last 14 years his city has closed eight out of 30 kindergartens, Nachman said. The high school enrollment was down from 1,200 to 700, he added. If the situation doesn't change, he added, he could be looking at shutting down an elementary school in the near future. The government speaks of wanting to retain Ariel in a final status agreement, but at the same time, it has taken steps that were choking it to death, Nachman said. "A government has the power to create a settlement and it can also destroy it," he said. In contrast to Ariel, Betar Illit, the third largest West Bank city, located a mere 400 meters over the green line, has one of the highest growth rates in Israel. Last year the haredi city's population grew by 9.1% from 29,355 in 2006 to 32,046 in 2007. That is more than five times as fast as the nation's population growth in 2007, which rose by only 1.7% from 2006. In past years, the city had built some 600 to 700 new apartments a year, said Betar Illit's Deputy Mayor Shlomo Sharabi. This year, the numbers were down to some 400, he added. But his concern was the lack of new permits for 2009, which he had yet to receive, he said. The 32 units recently approved by the Defense Ministry, he said, were just a fraction of what the city needs. "We are hoping for more," he said.