Annexation? 66% of Land Auctioned in Israel Was in West Bank

But overall amount of land advertised by Israel Lands Authority was down sharply in January from a year ago

The West Bank settlement of Efrat.
Emil Salman

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is pushing for the annexation of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, and the Israel Lands Authority appears to be doing its part to help. In January, two-thirds of the land the government agency offered for residential construction was over the Green Line.

All told, the ILA last month advertised land designated for 3,254 housing units, 2,136 of them in settlements, including Karnei Shomron, Givat Ze’ev, Ma’aleh Adumim and Efrat.

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The figures came as Netanyahu said over the weekend that Israel has begun to draw up maps of land in the West Bank that will be annexed in accordance with U.S. President Donald Trump’s proposed peace plan. Netanyahu is courting settler votes ahead of the March 2 election.

However, U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman said on Sunday any “unilateral action” by Israel to annex parts of the West Bank prematurely would result in the loss of U.S. support for imposing Israeli sovereignty on West Bank settlements.

Moreover, at a time when home prices are rising – they climbed 3.4% in the 12 months through November – the only major ILA auction for land in the central Israel, where the demand for housing is the strongest, was for a parcel zoned for 790 units in Be’er Ya’akov, near Rishon Letzion, according to an analysis by TheMarker.

Moreover, the amount of land marketed by ILA auction was down 24% from a year earlier, when land designated for 4,298 housing units was offered for sale. January 2020 was down even more sharply from December, when the ILA marketed land for 15,040 units, although the agency traditionally markets more land in December in order to boost its annual total.

In a response, the ILA said monthly figures on land marketing did not point to any underlying trends. “The ILA only relates to annual marketing figures to learn about ongoing trend in the housing market, and then only to a limited degree,” it said.

The ILA controls some 90% of the land in Israel, so it has considerable control of the supply of land and the ability of builders to increase housing starts.

The amount of land marketing by the ILA dropped 6%, from land zoned for about 60,000 units in 2018 to 56,000 units in 2019. The January figures point to a further decline in 2020.

Another odd development was the emphasis on land zoned for single-family homes at a time when planners are focusing on denser housing in order to cope with the growing shortage of undeveloped land.

In December, the ILA issued a request for proposal for the construction of 85 single-family homes in the new community of Givot Eden, located within Israel proper near Beit Shemesh. Another was for building 89 houses in Netivot and Arad, in the Negev.

Meanwhile, Mehir Lemishtaken, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon’s flagship program to reduce home prices, appeared to be losing momentum. The ILA said it marketed land through the program for just 1,070 housing units in January, a 50% drop from January 2019.

Industry sources said the decline reflected shrinking demand for homes in Israel’s northern and southern peripheries, where most of the Mehir Lemishtaken projects are sited.

“We’ve recently been feeling a decline is the number of requests for proposals in Mehir Lemishtaken. Many are being issued, but then they are delayed repeatedly because the ILA issues them without adequate preparation,” said Shaike Nakha, who owns Saleet Real Estate Enterprises.