Settlers: Silent evacuation of young couples taking place

Lack of new housing is causing "a silent evacuation of hundreds of young couples from Judea and Samaria," settler leader Dani Dayan told reporters on Monday. He called on the government to keep its promise to support new construction in the settlements. "Until today, the new government has done nothing in Judea and Samaria," said Dayan, who heads the Council of Jewish Communities of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip. In the past year, some 2,100 newly married couples registered in Judea and Samaria, but there were only about 400 open housing units that could house them, he said. These were couples where at least one spouse was born in Judea or Samaria and wanted to live near their parents but couldn't for lack of space. Only one in every five couples could find a home, he said. His numbers run counter to those of the Central Bureau of Statistics, which registered 1,584 new apartment units as completed in 2008. Peace Now said new housing starts in West Bank settlements rose by 42 percent in 2008, from 1,487 in 2007 to 2,122 last year. The total of housing starts in those settlements in 2008 was slightly more than in Jerusalem or in Haifa, Peace Now said. But Dayan said these numbers were misleading as the bulk of the construction was for haredi housing projects, but few new homes had been built in national religious or secular communities on either side of the West Bank security barrier. Council director-general Pinchas Wallerstein said, when "everything is forbidden, everything is allowed." He called on leaders in each community to do whatever they could to allow for the settlement of young couples and new families. Every day settlements received scores of calls from people interested in moving there, Dayan said. On Monday, Dayan was one of the few people in Jerusalem whose attention was not on the visiting Pope Benedict XVI. He was more concerned about Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's first meeting with US President Barack Obama next week. There was a serious attempt to persuade the prime minister to move toward a Palestinian state, against the will of the voters who just put him in office, Dayan said. There were already attempts to link movement on the Palestinian track with the ability to combat the Iranian nuclear threat, he said. In the days leading up to the Netanyahu-Obama meeting, Dayan expects the Israeli media to publish reports of increased settlement activity by putting forward numbers that go against the reality in the field, which is that most construction in these communities is frozen. In reaction to US Vice President Joe Biden's call last week to halt settlement construction, Dayan said the Israeli public had not voted for him or other foreign leaders. "We chose a government that promised other things," he said. "Our complaint is not to Joe Biden or to [Quartet envoy] Tony Blair. We are turning to Binyamin Netanyahu." He said that the public had voted for Netanyahu because among other things, he promised to support the settlements, he said. Dayan said he feared a well-orchestrated effort to sway Netanyahu to show progress on the Palestinian track by breaking that promise. Dayan was not the only person on the Right with a message for the prime minister. Right-wing groups on Monday launched an advertising campaign in advance of the Netanyahu-Obama meeting. They placed ads on the backs of buses that read: "Bibi, safeguard Israel, for us and for future generations."