If the headline to this blog post looks familiar, it is because it is. A little over a year ago, I blogged about how the Associated Press, based on a report by the anti-settlement organisation Peace Now, reported an increase in construction in Israel’s West Bank settlements when housing starts had actually dropped.
Now, the wire service has done it again, with the misleading headline “Watchdog says Israel’s West Bank settlements surged in 2019”. The article itself shows housing starts had dropped by 8.7% in 2019 compared to the previous year, even according to Peace Now’s own statistics, which, it should be noted, are not official Israeli government statistics, which are much lower.
According to official government statistics, construction in the settlements dropped by a massive 32% in 2019 and is actually at the lowest point in seven years.
As the Jerusalem Post’s Tovah Lazaroff reported on March 18:
“In actual numbers there were 1,528 settler housing starts in 2019 and 1,431 finishes.
Settler construction was at its lowest point in 2019 in seven years, according to the CBS, which showed that in 2012, there were 1,214 starts and 1,270 finishes.”
AP and Peace Now justify their claim by pointing to the “advancement” of plans for settlement housing construction, which did increase. Yet advancing plans for construction in settlements only means that a multi-step approval process had been moved forward one step on such construction. It is not an indicator whether actual construction will take place. In fact, it often never does.
Moreover, comparisons between construction rates in the settlements during the Obama administration and the Trump Administration fail to mention that, during the Obama years, Israel unilaterally instituted a ten-month construction freeze, in a fruitless effort to bring the Palestinians back to the peace table. Without that anomaly, statistics would unequivocally reflect slower construction during the Trump Administration.
The only honest indicator of construction within settlements is actual housing starts, measured in individual units. But even this can be misleading at times. In 2016, I blogged about how the reported construction of 234 “housing starts” in one settlement actually involved a single aged care facility.