Peace Now urges longer settlement freeze

"West Bank construction measures irrelevant if moratorium not continued."

construction work in beitar illit 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
construction work in beitar illit 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Measures to curb new Jewish West Bank construction will become irrelevant unless the moratorium on new settlement construction is extended past its end date of September 26, said Peace Now executive director Yariv Oppenheimer on Thursday.
According to a Central Bureau of Statistics report published in The Jerusalem Post at the end of last month, there were no new housing starts in Judea and Samaria in the first quarter of 2010.
It’s the first time in more than two decades, and possibly in the history of the settlement movement, that a three-month period has passed without any new settler construction.
The CBS report, which shows zero settler housing starts in the first quarter of 2010, is part of a larger report on construction in Israel that is released by the CBS four times a year, including at the end of May.
It is the first available government data by which one can evaluate the effectiveness of the 10-month moratorium on new settlement construction that the government put in place on November 26.
Although six months have passed since then, it is impossible to cull December numbers from the prior CBS report for the last quarter of 2009. Statistics are not available yet for April and May.
CBS data going back to 1989 show that there has never been a quarterly building report that registered zero new construction in West Bank settlements.
Oppenheimer told the Post the CBS data did not calculate illegal construction or modular housing.
He added that he believed that in some instances the CBS was unaware of ongoing work in the settlements to lay new foundations. But he offered no numbers to back up his statement.
Oppenheimer said the issue was not the exact number of housing starts but whether the freeze would continue.
In the last quarter there was also a drop of 15 percent in the number of homes under construction in West Bank settlements, according to the CBS, said Oppenheimer.
Under the terms of the moratorium, settlers can build 3,000 homes whose foundations were laid in advance of the November 26 moratorium on such activity.
According to the CBS, the rate of homes being finished in Judea and Samaria has continued at its regular pace.
There was a 5% drop in the number of completed homes, 415 of which were finished in the first quarter of 2010, compared with 437 completed in the same time last year.
Overall, in 2009, 2,079 homes were completed in West Bank settlements, a 29% increase over 2008, when 1,601 new homes were finished, according to the CBS.
In 2007, 1,747 new homes were completed, and 2,167 were finished in 2006.
When it comes to housing starts, CBS numbers show a dramatic jump in construction in the last quarter of 2009 – 122% – compared to the first quarter of that year. It’s assumed that this refers only to construction work that was done in October and November.
In the first quarter of 2009, there were 342 housing starts, 327 in the second quarter, 442 in the third and 762 in the fourth.
Overall, there were 1,873 housing starts in 2009, an 11% drop from 2008, when work was begun on 2,107 new homes.
On a tour of the Efrat settlement Tuesday, Likud Minister Dan Meridor said that new construction should only be partially resumed when the moratorium ended. Future settlement construction should only occur in areas that Israel is likely to retain in any final status agreement with the Palestinians.
It’s clear that building in Judea and Samaria will resume at the end of September, he said. “There is no obligation to extend the moratorium,” he added. But “the question is not where to build, but how to do it logically,” he said.
“I have suggested that we build in areas that will remain part of Israel, and not in those areas that won’t be part of Israel. There are ministers who think differently,” he said. “We have to build [in the settlements] wisely so as not to harm the negotiations with the Palestinians,” Meridor added.