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It seems that never before has so much been written and said about the "natural growth" of so few. The issue of construction in the West Bank settlements for the sake of the future generation is threatening to sabotage Israel's relations with the U.S., or undermine Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's relations with the settlers and their representatives in the Likud and Israel's right wing.

Maybe it is no coincidence that the government spokespeople insist on describing the homes for "sons returning from the army" rather than homes for young couples, or students. Someone might dare to check the housing situation in Arab villages or East Jerusalem, whose residents actually on Israeli soil ? as opposed to the settlers.

Figures released by the Central Bureau of Statistics during the years 2006-2007 (the 2008 statistics are not yet available) reveal that natural growth is a matter of geography, and especially of religion and nationality. In terms of housing, the settlers are not the most deprived sector in greater Israel. Their rate of natural growth stands at 3.2 percent per year, which accounts for only a part of the population growth in the settlements, which stood at 4.3 percent. The remaining growth can be attributed to "immigration" from within Israel and from abroad.

According to the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS), the construction of 2,200 apartments was completed in 2006 in the settlements, which boasted 271,000 residents at the time. This number, 2,200, is similar to the number of apartments that were built within the same time frame in the districts of Jerusalem (882,000 residents), and Haifa (869,000 residents). During the same year, the Housing Ministry offered 390 housing units to the entire Arab sector in Israel, whose rate of natural growth is only slightly lower than that of the settlers (2.6 percent to the settlers' 3.2 percent). The rate of natural growth among Israeli Jews in general stands at 1.6 percent.

In August of last year, the Housing Ministry promised in a letter to Arab rights group Musawa that 1,800 housing units would be built in 15 Arab villages and towns. In 2000 the government adopted a plan to build 50,000 apartments for Arab Israelis within five years. The plan was never carried out and the housing crisis in the Arab sector is getting worse and worse.

Research conducted by Musawa revealed that in 80 percent of the Arab towns there were absolutely no approved housing plans. In 2007, only 21 percent of the budget allocated to housing for minorities was actually used. The result is unauthorized construction by Arab residents, which prompt the government to issue demolition orders, and contribute to crowding. (The density of the Jewish population is 0.84 people per room, while in the Arab sector it is 1.43 people per room).

"Israel, which takes such good care of the settlers' natural growth, is trying to fight against our natural growth because we are a 'demographic threat'," said Israeli Arab MK Ahmed Tibi (Ra'am-Ta'al)

But official figures, compiled by human rights groups, show that the housing situation of Israeli Arabs is much better than that of the Palestinians in East Jerusalem:

  • Since 1967, the Palestinian population in East Jerusalem has grown almost four times from 69,000 to 270,000. The Jerusalem municipality estimates that the natural Palestinian growth requires the construction of 1,500 housing units per year. But between 1992 and 2001 the municipality authorized the construction of an average of 400 housing units for Palestinians per year. In 2008 as well only 400 permits were issued. The result: Illegal construction and demolition orders.

  • Since 1967, less than 600 government subsidized homes were built in the Palestinian sector, the last of which was built 30 years ago.

  • Only 13% of the land Israel annexed from the West Bank into Jerusalem is available to the Palestinian population. The lands that were annexed were mainly used to house 50,000 apartments for Jews. Some 45 square kilometers cannot be built on as large portions have been declared "green zones" and construction is prohibited.

    The government recently published stricter guidelines for the issuance of construction permits. According to architect Efrat Cohen-Bar, "The planning policy discriminates against the Palestinian population in East Jerusalem, whose welfare Israel is responsible for."

    Finally, if the U.S. yields to Israel's natural growth argument to justify continued settlement construction, the Palestinian Authority will argue that when it comes to Arab natural growth, Israel fails to show the same compassion it affords to the settlers. In area "C" in the West Bank, which is entirely under Israeli authority, some 150,000 Palestinians currently reside. Between 2000 and 2007 only 91 construction permits were issued there, accounting for 5.6% of the requests filed by Palestinians. The result: housing crisis, illegal construction and demolition orders.