Housing starts in Judea and Samaria fell by 33.7 percent in the first six months of 2009, compared to the same period in 2008, according to Central Bureau of Statistics data released on Monday. The report comes as Israel and the United States are discussing a possible freeze in settlement activity. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has not approved any new West Bank construction projects since taking office on March 31. Peace Now says that no new settlement projects have been approved since November. But using previously issued permits, settlers were able to start work on 672 apartments in the first half of 2009, down from the 1,015 that were begun in the same months last year. For the country as a whole, housing starts declined 3% in that same time period. The only area to fare worse than the settlements was Tel Aviv, where work on new apartments dropped by 40%. In all of 2008, work began on 2,118 apartments in the settlements, a 42% increase from the 1,490 housing starts in 2007. But it was already obvious in the first quarter of 2009 that the numbers were falling. There was a 39% dip in that quarter, with construction beginning on 342 apartments from January through March, compared to 560 in the same period in 2008. The trend continued, with a 27% drop year-over-year in the second quarter, with 330 apartment starts from April through June, compared to 455 a year earlier. The decline also reflects a continued shift from public to private construction in West Bank settlements, where in 2009, 66% of the new construction was private and 34% was public. In 2008, 49.7% of the new construction was private and 50.3% was public. There was a significantly smaller decline in the number of completed apartments in the first half of 2009, with only a 5% drop from 2008. Nationwide, the number of finished apartments rose by 3.1%. But in the settlements, 878 apartments (55% in public projects) were finished in the first half of 2009, compared with 932 (24% public) in the first half of 2008.