Peace Now: Settlement tenders up by 550% in 2008

Report: E. J'lem construction at 4-year high; cites sharp rise in new settlement construction.

har homa 224 88 (photo credit: )
har homa 224 88
(photo credit: )
The number of tenders issued for settlement construction jumped by 550 percent in the first eight months of 2008 compared with all of 2007, according to statistics released Tuesday by Peace Now in the midst of a visit by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice who has opposed such building. "I think it's no secret, and I have said it to my Israeli counterparts that I don't think that settlement activity is helpful," Rice said Tuesday. Palestinians have insisted that Israeli construction over the Green Line sabotages the ongoing peace talks. But in spite of these objections, Peace Now in its report stated that the issuance of construction tenders in Jewish neighborhoods of east Jerusalem had reached a four-year high. Although many of the tenders relate to well-publicized projects, such as Pisgat Ze'ev, and Har Homa, Peace Now in its report strung the numbers together to show a trend of increased construction over the Green Line when compared to the last few years. "The government of Israel continues to build in the settlement blocs and outside of them, in spite of its international obligations," said Hagit Ofran, who heads the Peace Now Settlement Watch Team. Ofran, the head of the Peace Now Settlement Watch, called on the government to halt construction over the Green Line and said that such building weakened the Palestinians. The report also charged that the government was trying to erase the Green Line and to expand the territorial link between the settlement blocs and the isolated settlements. The picture of the ongoing construction painted in her group's report is the most stark in east Jerusalem, where the number of tenders published jumped by 27 percent, from 793 in all of 2007 to 1014 in the first eight months of 2008. The bulk of those 2007 tenders, 747 of them, were issued in December, one month after the United States formally relaunched peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians in Annapolis in November. Since then, Peace Now has charged, the problem was made worse with by the 763 unit project in Pisgat Ze'ev and the 251 unit project in Har Homa. According to the report, the 2007 and 2008 numbers surpass the 665 east Jerusalem tenders issued in 2006 and the 736 tenders handed out in 2005. Although the international community has opposed the expansion of Jewish neighborhoods in east Jerusalem, Israel has insisted that it has a right to build in its capital. In the past, Housing and Construction Minister Ze'ev Boim has said the new apartment units were necessary to alleviate Jerusalem's housing crunch. But the increase in building tenders in east Jerusalem runs counter to a trend of a decreasing number of new housing projects in Jerusalem, which dropped by 39.2% in the first quarter of 2008, according to numbers from the Central Bureau of Statistics. In the West Bank, the 550% increase in settlement tenders boils down to 417 units, of which 317 are in the settlement of Betar Illit, 48 in Ariel and 52 in Elkana. In 2007, according to Peace Now, only 65 such tenders were issued. Their numbers do not include the authorization for the 530 units of a 750 unit project in the Givat Ze'ev settlement, for which tenders were not required. Overall in the West Bank, Peace Now charged, 125 new structures had been added to unauthorized outposts, 30 of which were permanent. In addition, it said that in the settlements, there are some 2,600 new apartment units now under construction, in more than 1,000 new structures. According to Peace Now, the largest projects are in the settlement of Ma'aleh Adumim, where 950 apartment units are now under construction. In spite of the government's insistence that its building is limited to settlements that it is likely to retain in any final status agreement with the Palestinians, Peace Now has charged that more than 55% of the ongoing construction is outside of the boundaries of the security barrier. It drew on numbers from the Central Bureau of Statistics which showed that in spite of a 14% drop in new housing projects in Israel in the first quarter of 2008, those numbers were up by 82% in the West Bank settlements in that same period. According to the Bureau 492 new apartment units had been started in the first quarter of 2008, compared with 270 in 2007. It should be noted however, that the change is much less dramatic when compared with the first quarter of 2006, during which 425 new apartment units had been started in Judea and Samaria. According to the Bureau, 310 of the new apartment units begun in 2008 were public projects initiated by the Ministry of Housing and Construction, compared with 2007, when the ministry had initiated only 70 new apartment units. In response to the report, Dani Dayan, who heads the Council of Jewish Communities of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip, said, "We are glad for every Jewish home that is built in Judea and Samaria. We are glad that despite the obstacles that Peace Now put in front of us, we could build, not as much as we would like to, but we grew substantially." It was good, he said, that the monetary donations the European Union had given to Peace Now had gone to documenting "the most important Zionist endeavor, populating Judea and Samaria with hundreds of thousands of Jews."