Housing Starts Up 17% in West Bank Settlements, Despite Falling 7% Across Israel

West Bank shows second-highest growth in housing starts, second only to Jerusalem, with 1,195 housing starts in the first half of 2016.

Settlement construction in the West Bank, June 2016.
Reuters / Baz Ratner

The number of housing starts in West Bank settlements rose 16.7 percent during the first half of 2016 compared to the same period last year, according to data published on Wednesday by the Central Bureau of Statistics.

According to the CBS report, the "Judea and Samaria Region" showed the second-highest growth in housing starts, second only to Jerusalem, where housing starts were up 18.2 percent. The CBS did not distinguish between housing starts in Jerusalem within or over the Green Line. In the West Bank alone during the first half of 2016 there were 1,195 housing starts, some 170 more than during the first half of 2015.

This constitutes even more significant growth when compared to previous years – in 2012, for example, there were 1,247 housing starts in the West Bank the entire year, according to the CBS, while in all of 2011 there were only 1,110. In 2010, when the construction freeze was in effect, there were only 758 housing starts.

The surge in construction in the settlements is especially notable given the decline in housing starts in other areas in Israel during the same half year, when there was a 7-percent drop in housing starts nationwide.

In the north there was a drop of more than 15 percent, while in Haifa the decrease was nearly 35 percent, and in the south, 11 percent. In the Tel Aviv district, on the other hand, there were 11 percent more housing starts than in the first half of 2015. According to the CBS, the housing starts in the West Bank comprised 5 percent of all housing starts during the period.

According to the CBS, during the first half of the year there was a decrease in the number of building projects finished in the settlements compared to the first half of 2015. The left-wing Peace Now group maintains that the data about increased housing starts over the Green Line combined with the drop in the number of completed homes begun a while ago shows that the government is now building more in the territories as a deliberate policy.

“This is proof that Netanyahu is leading Israel toward the establishment of a binational state and is investing the public’s money in the settlements at the expense of the Negev, the Galilee and the rest of the country,” the organization said in a statement.

The Council of Jewish Communities in Judea and Samaria said most of the housing starts are in the settlement blocs, areas that, according to Israeli political consensus, will remain with Israel even if an agreement with the Palestinians is reached. Hundreds of the units being built are in large settlements like Modi’in Illit, Ariel and Efrat.

Dror Etkes, a former Peace Now activist who researches construction policies in the territories, confirmed that most of the housing starts in recent months were in the settlement blocs.

“This is all ridiculous,” the Yesha Council said. “We’re talking altogether about 171 more housing starts compared to last year in a district in which there is the least construction relative to the rest of the country. Nearly half a million Israelis live in Judea and Samaria and the annual growth rate is more than double that of the rest of the country. We are demanding that the freeze stop.”