In a follow-up to my blog post from March 6 on the subject of the reality of construction in Israel’s West Bank settlements, a new look at the numbers from former Bush Administration deputy national security advisor Elliott Abrams. Abrams’ detailed figures confirm more definitely that, as I said, “housing construction within Israel’s West Bank settlements under the Netanyahu government remains at some of the lowest levels in years”. In fact, construction outside major settlement blocs – areas that Israel is expected to keep through mutually agreed land swaps in any potential peace agreement – was very low, and probably amounted to not more than a few hundred homes.
Moreover, even that extremely limited construction may no longer be taking place, now that Israeli media has reported on what appears to be a silent settlement freeze that has been put into effect outside of the settlement blocs.
Writing in the Washington Post, together with Abrams’ colleague at the Council of Foreign Relations Uri Sadot, Abrams provides us with a more detailed breakdown of Israel’s housing construction in the West Bank over the past year.
The critical figure to monitor is the number of Israeli houses built outside such blocs in areas intended for the future state of Palestine. What the CBS data tell us on that question is that only 908 units were built last year in Israeli townships of 10,000 residents or fewer. And most of those units were built in settlement towns that are part of the major blocs. Units built in areas that would become part of Palestine number in the hundreds – and likely in the low hundreds. Given that about 90,000 Israelis live in the West Bank outside the blocs, that is approximately the rate of natural growth. So much for [US President Barack Obama’s] claim of “aggressive construction.”
Meanwhile, Yediot Ahronot reported at the end of February that Israel has begun delaying housing construction projects in the West Bank outside of the settlement blocs.
According to the report:
Jordan Valley regional council chief David Elchaiiani asked Cabinet Secretary Avichai Mandelblit last week why construction was being held up in the settlements that he administers, even in projects that had received approval from the defense minister.
He was told that the order had come from on high not to advance construction plans in settlements outside the major blocs.
“We received instruction from policy makers not to advance plans outside what’s found in the settlement blocs,” Mandelblit was quoted as telling Elchaiiani”.
In a carefully worded reply to the Times of Israel over the report, which left open the possibility of a silent freeze, Housing Minister Uri Ariel from the pro-settler Jewish Home party denied knowledge of the existence of any freeze, and vowed to oppose any such move.