Settlement housing starts rise 68% as Bennett pledges W. Bank development

The Settlement Affairs Ministry pledged to “preserve state land in Judea and Samaria for cultivation and development,” in a document published  Monday in which the government laid out its priorities.

By TOVAH LAZAROFF   SEPTEMBER 20, 2021 19:02

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View of the Israeli settlement of Ariel, in the West Bank on July 2, 2020. Photo by Sraya Diamant/Flash90 (photo credit: SRAYA DIAMANT/FLASH90)

View of the Israeli settlement of Ariel, in the West Bank on July 2, 2020. Photo by Sraya Diamant/Flash90 (photo credit: SRAYA DIAMANT/FLASH90)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett pledged to develop West Bank settlements as housing starts in those Jewish communities rose by 68% in the first two quarters of this year, according to Central Bureau data.

The Settlement Affairs Ministry pledged to “preserve state land in Judea and Samaria for cultivation and development,” in a document published  Monday in which the government laid out its priorities for the near future.It also stated that it would develop “settlements and villages in Judea and Samaria.”

Bennett, whose right-wing Yamina party supports West Bank settlement construction, has been clear since he took office that he has no intention of freezing any such building. A number of parties in his government, however, are opposed to such building, even though it is now part of the coalition’s work program. 

Still, despite Bennett’s statements, the Higher Planning Council for Judea and Samaria, has not met to substantively approve or advance settlement construction plans since January 2021. This includes the period since Bennett’s government was sworn into office in June.

View of the Jewish settlement of Eli, in the West Bank on January 17, 2021. (credit: SRAYA DIAMANT/FLASH90)View of the Jewish settlement of Eli, in the West Bank on January 17, 2021. (credit: SRAYA DIAMANT/FLASH90)

A council meeting to advance plans for 2,223 settler homes slated for August was canceled and a new date has not yet been set.

The lag in approvals came after the spike in West Bank settlement planning that occurred during the former Trump administration four-year term, but those approvals did not translate into an increased rate of building.

There were fewer settler housing starts during the four years of the Trump administration than in the last four years of the Obama administration. In 2020, which was also the last year of former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s tenure, there were only 1,285 settler housing starts, one of the lowest such numbers in a decade.

In contrast during the first six months of this year, ground was broken for 979 new Jewish homes in Judea and Samaria.  There was, however, a 7% drop in the number of finished homes in the first half of this year, when compared with the first six months of 2020.

As of the end of June, 1,091 settler homes were completed compared with the  1,013 that were finished in the first half of last year.

According to CBS, the rate of settler population growth has dropped in 2020 to 2.3%, the lowest in the history of the movement.

Bennett is not the only one in his party to speak of the need for settlement development. On Tuesday the Minister of Religious Services Matan Kahana pledged to prioritize synagogues in Judea and Samaria when allocating budgets. 

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