Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Settlement housing construction plummets to five-year low

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In January, coinciding with the inauguration of US President Donald Trump, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's government advanced plans for thousands of new homes in Jewish neighbourhoods of east Jerusalem as well as the West Bank (the vast majority within settlement blocs Israel is expected to keep as part of any peace agreement via land swaps.)

Yet since then - according to the latest figures released by Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics, actual housing starts have dropped to its lowest point in five years.

Strangely, the media has been silent about this glaring disparity between Israeli government announcements regarding settlements and the situation on the ground.

In June, I blogged about how the drop in construction at that time had been spun into a "surge" by playing around with timelines.

Now, housing statistics show the plunge in starts has continued. This time, however - with the exception of the Jerusalem Post - the media has greeted the news with complete silence.

The Jerusalem Post reported:

From April to June ground was broken on only 278 settler homes, a 75% drop, compared with 1,121 such starts during the same period in 2016. The last time the number was that low for any three month period was in the fourth quarter of 2012.
In contrast, the second quarter of 2016 was unusually high, so the drop is lower and stands at 60%, when comparing the 646 housing starts from January to June of this year with the 1,575 starts from the first half of last year.
The CBS spoke of an overall 18% drop when comparing the last 12 months, with its 2005 starts, to the period of July 2015 to June 2016 were there were 2449 starts.
It was the largest such drop nationwide, where the number of starts fell by 4.6%. Among the region that were below that average was Tel Aviv, which fell by 16.5% and in the South, which dropped by 15%.
The statistics bureau published its data precisely as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu boasted about his dedication to building throughout the country, including in Judea and Samaria.
"We are building the land and settling it, on the mountain, in the valley, the Galilee, the Negev and also in Judea and Samaria," Netanyahu said. "Because this is our land! This is our home and the birthplace of the Jewish nation. It is the only land that was promised to our forefathers. We were given the right to settle it. We must safeguard it from every vantage point."

In my June blog, I noted that settler leaders

"attack... Netanyahu for promising much to the settlement movement over the years and delivering little. This is something that is repeatedly expressed by many in the settlement movement. And the evidence indicates that this is not just an ambit claim by settlers for more. Despite the appearance given in the media, the Netanyahu governments since his taking office in 2009, have been more restrained in slowing settlement growth than their predecessors."

Three months and another quarterly construction report later, the observations made in the blog continue to hold true.

The question that everyone should be asking is why most Israel-based foreign correspondents often report on those quarterly reports that ostensibly show a rise in settlement housing starts, but never seem to find drops in settlement housing starts to be newsworthy.

With such selective reporting, no wonder so many Australians have bought into the fallacy of "massive settlement expansion" under Netanyahu.

Ahron Shapiro

 

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