EU Report on Settlements: 8,000 New Homes Advanced in First Half of 2017

Homes in the pipeline could accommodate some 30,000 new settlers in West Bank, East Jerusalem; new settlement of Amihai, retroactive legalization 'worrying' developments

Construction work on the Amichai West Bank settlement, October 18, 2017
Olivier Pitousi

A European Union report issued Friday found that Israel advanced nearly 8,000 housing units in the West Bank and East Jerusalem in the first half of 2017.

The sources for the data in the report included Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, the Civil Administration and left-wing organizations such as Peace Now and Ir Amim. It contains harsh criticism of Israel’s policies in the West Bank, particularly in recent months.

Of the 8,000 residential units that were in various stages in the January to June 2017 period, 5,000 were still being planned and 3,000 were put out for bid. The authors of the report, which was issued by the Office of the European Union Representative (West Bank and Gaza Strip) of the UN Relief and Works Agency, wrote that if completed, these homes could enable more than 30,000 Israelis to move to settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem over the next several years.

The report noted that some 208,000 Israelis live in Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, including huge neighborhoods such as Pisgat Ze’ev. An additional 399,000 live in Area C of the West Bank (areas that are under full Israeli control according to the Oslo Accords), exclusive of East Jerusalem. That adds up to around 600,000 Israelis in 142 locations — 130 in the West Bank and 12 in East Jerusalem.

The report took special note of the planned West Bank settlement of Amihai, intended for settlers who were evicted from the unauthorized outpost of Amona. Noting that Amihai was the first settlement to be established through a cabinet resolution since 1992, the authors added that the retroactive legalization of the unauthorized outpost of Kerem Re’im near Ramallah was “another worrying development.”

The report said that settlement-related projects such as bypass roads, tourism projects and archaeological sites contribute to continued settlement expansion and the strengthening of Israel’s presence and control of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. Israel annexed East Jerusalem in 1967 after the Six-Day War.

The authors noted that continued settlement expansion is illegal under international law, as reaffirmed last year in UN Security Council Resolution 2334,as well as contradicting long-standing EU policy and the recommendations of the Middle East Quartet (the EU, the United States, Russia and the United Nations).

In the first half of this year, approval was granted for three waves of construction, the report states. The first was advanced by Israel’s Civil Administration in the West Bank in late January and early February involving 2,800 housing units, including 1,000 that have proceeded to public bids.

The second wave was in March, when the cabinet approved the establishment of Amihai and advanced the building of about 2,000 housing units in settlements along with recognition of additional areas of the West Bank as “Israeli state land.”

The third wave came in June, with the advance of 3,000 housing units at various stages of planning, including more than 1,000 in Ma’aleh Adumim, just east of Jerusalem.

The EU report noted that there were about 3,000 housing starts in 2016, the latest period for which data were available. The 2016 figure, according to the report, was a high since 2001, when the figures first began to be collected. By contrast, in 2014, the figure was less than 1,500 and slightly over 500 in 2010 (at the height of a settlement construction freeze. In 2001, the figure was 1,600.

The report also surveys trends contributing to settlement expansion and highlights three types of Israeli activity. One is the legalization, from the standpoint of Israeli law, of unauthorized West Bank outposts. The outpost of Kerem Re’im has become a new settlement, said the report, which also noted the passage of legislation in February of this year that is designed to retroactively legalize the use in the settlements of privately owned Palestinian land under certain circumstances. The constitutionality of the law is currently the subject of court challenges.

A second trend, according to the report, involves the expansion of tourist and archaeology sites, including plans to build a cable car network in East Jerusalem, the building of a visitors’ center on Jerusalem’s Mount of Olives and archaeology sites in the West Bank town of Hebron.

The third trend involves infrastructure projects in support of the settlements, including a bypass road in the Qalqilyah area of the West Bank, a wall near Walaja in the Bethlehem area and the prospect, in light of plans to evict Bedouin, of projects in Area E1, a corridor between Ma’aleh Adumim and Jerusalem, which the report said “would entail a severe breach of contiguity between East Jerusalem and the West Bank.”