Israel Housing Crunch Eases in West Bank as It Deepens Elsewhere

  • Settlement housing starts up 17% in 1st half from year-earlier
  • Inside Israel and east Jerusalem, housing starts were down

Israel’s housing crunch is easing in the West Bank even as it deepens within the country’s internationally recognized borders.

In the first six months of 2016, the number of housing starts in West Bank settlements soared 41 percent from the previous half year, and 17 percent from the same period a year earlier, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics. Inside Israel and in east Jerusalem, where about 95 percent of the population lives, housing starts declined 3.3 percent from the previous six months and 7.8 percent from the first half of 2015.

The building surge on lands the Palestinians claim for a future state has drawn fire from the U.S., European governments and the United Nations, which consider it an obstacle to peacemaking. It’s accompanied the authorization of hundreds of additional settler homes, the demolition of illegally built Palestinian residences and the legalization of unauthorized settler housing, complicating any prospects for resuming peace talks that broke down more than two years ago.

According to the statistics bureau, construction began on 1,195 new homes in the West Bank in the first half of the year, and on 22,898 within Israel’s internationally recognized borders and in east Jerusalem. In total, housing starts fell 1.8 percent, undercutting the government’s pledge to boost supply to try to bring down prices that have more than doubled in the last decade.

A spokesman for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the housing director at the Finance Ministry didn’t reply to requests for comment.

Netanyahu is “the prime minister of one sector only -- the settler sector,” the anti-settlement Peace Now group said in an e-mailed statement.

Israelis who move to the West Bank are motivated by ideological and religious reasons -- and cheaper housing prices. About 400,000 settlers live there, or roughly four times the number in 1993, the year Israel and the Palestinians signed their landmark peace accord, which made no mention of a settlement construction freeze.

In a video he released last week, Netanyahu said he has always “been perplexed” by the notion that Jewish communities in the West Bank are an obstacle to peace. He also equated the Palestinian demand to evacuate Jewish settlements to “ethnic cleansing,” adding that “some otherwise enlightened countries even promote this outrage.”

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