The number of housing starts in West Bank settlements more than doubled in 2013, according to data released Monday by the Central Bureau of Statistics.
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The figures were released only hours before Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was due to meet with President Barack Obama in Washington. The two have serious differences over Israel's settlement policies.
In its annual roundup of the Israeli housing market, the bureau said work began on 2,534 new housing units in the settlements in 2013, compared to 1,133 in 2012. The period covered coincides roughly with the tenure of Uri Ariel (Habayit Hayehudi) as Housing Minister.
The number of West Bank housing starts in 2013 is a 10-year high. The highest annual number ever was the 5,000 units built in 2000 under the Barak government.
Of the 2013 housing starts, 1,710 were in apartment buildings typical of the larger settlements, like Maale Adumim, Beitar Ilit and Modiin Ilit, while 824 were single units in the smaller settlements.
Sixty-four percent of the starts – 1,161 units – were public housing, a figure that is significantly higher than what is common within the Green Line. It indicates the huge efforts being made by the government to build in the territories. In the north of the country, for example, public housing accounts for only 20 percent of construction, while in the south it accounts for 30 percent.
The bureau's figures refer to approved construction that is undertaken with permits. The significant amount of illegal building in West Bank outposts is not counted.
Accelerated construction is the trend within the Green Line as well. The bureau reported 44,340 housing starts throughout the country in 2013.
The Yesha Council of settlements said the enormous jump in percentage terms stemmed from a government freeze on tenders the previous year. In absolute terms, it said, the West Bank had fewer housing starts than any other region of the country.
Moreover, said council Deputy Director General Yigal Dilmoni, the quantity is still insufficient to meet the needs of the settlements’ population, which is growing “at two and a half times the rate” of the rest of the country.
He urged the government to unfreeze additional tenders, saying this would create more housing near the center of the country, and thereby both ease the housing shortage and lower housing prices.