Three months after the moratorium on settlement construction in the West Bank came to an end, the settlements are growing at an almost unprecedented pace.
According to data from the Peace Now organization, work has begun on no less than 1,712 new housing units, and in almost every second settlement there is a significant building project. This is especially noticeable in the outlying and smaller settlements.
In some 65 settlements there is a large construction project. In Kedumim, 76 new units have been started since the end of the freeze, in Revava 60, in Elazar 58, in Karmei Tzur 42 and in Neria 30.
In other settlements too the bulldozers are working overtime. In Shaked, 25 housing units are under construction, in both Paduel and Rehan 24, in Ateret 18, in Susia 15 and Maaleh Michmash 11. And the list goes on.
All this construction has begun since the direct talks with the Palestinians broke down and Israel decided not to extend the moratorium on West Bank settlement construction. The results are clear to all: Thousands more Jews will live in the West Bank when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas finally sit down to talk face to face, if it ever happens – which will cause yet more problems on the road to peace.
The Prime Minister's Office tried to play down the significance of the accelerated construction in the West Bank.
"The current construction will not affect the peace borders in any way," said Mark Regev, one of the prime minister's spokespersons. He said to the New York Times that building begun since the end of the freeze is taking place in existing settlements alone, and that no new land expropriations have taken place.
Some 13,000 additional units approved (Archive photo: Reuters)
Dror Etkes, who has been monitoring building beyond the Green Line (the pre-1967 borders) for almost a decade, says he doesn't remember any period with such intensive construction.
Peace Now's Hagit Ofran agrees. "This is the most active period for years," she said. In addition to housing units which are already under construction, she says, some 13,000 additional units have been approved. In comparison, in each of the last three years only 3,000 housing units were built.
'We're catching up'
Settlement leaders make no effort to contradict the data presented by Peace Now. "The freeze is over, we're catching up," David Ha'ivri, from the Samaria Regional Council, said to the Times. "The Peace Now numbers are credible. The counting seems logical. The difference is we see this in a positive light while they see it in a negative light.
Yesha Council Director General Naftali Bennett said he had asked the government to advertize tenders for 4,000 additional housing units, mainly in the larger settlements.
In recent years, most of the settlement construction has been in the larger settlements, relatively close to the Green Line, including Maaleh Adumim, Beitar Ilit and Modiin Ilit, which will probably remain within Israel's borders if territorial exchange is agreed on. However, the current feverish construction is being carried out in settlements deeper within the West Bank, such as Tapuah, Talmon and Ofra.
"In many settlements where no new construction has been noted in recent years, there is now renewed construction and expansion," Peace Now said, and even sent a letter to the Defense Ministry detailing the illegal construction in the West Bank.
The international community perceives all construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem as illegal and illegitimate, even though Israel has claimed in the past that construction in east Jerusalem is legal and will continue.
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