The number of settler housing starts plummeted in the second quarter of 2017, dropping to its lowest point in five years, even as Israeli planning activity for such construction in the West Bank has dramatically spiked, according to data released Tuesday by the Central Bureau of Statistics.
From April to June ground was broken on only 278 settler homes, a 75% drop, compared with 1,121 such starts during the same period in 2016. The last time the number was that low for any three month period was in the fourth quarter of 2012.
In contrast, the second quarter of 2016 was unusually high, so the drop is lower and stands at 60%, when comparing the 646 housing starts from January to June of this year with the 1,575 starts from the first half of last year.
The CBS spoke of an overall 18% drop when comparing the last 12 months, with its 2005 starts, to the period of July 2015 to June 2016 were there were 2449 starts.
It was the largest such drop nationwide, where the number of starts fell by 4.6%. Among the region that were below that average was Tel Aviv, which fell by 16.5% and in the South, which dropped by 15%.
The statistics bureau published its data precisely as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu boasted about his dedication to building throughout the country, including in Judea and Samaria.
“We are building the land and settling it, on the mountain, in the valley, the Galilee, the Negev and also in Judea and Samaria,” Netanyahu said. “Because this is our land! This is our home and the birthplace of the Jewish nation. It is the only land that was promised to our forefathers. We were given the right to settle it. We must safeguard it from every vantage point.”
In the last half year, Netanyahu has authorized an unusually large amount of settlement activity, including the marketing of 3,400 homes and the advancement of plans for 5,000 more.
The government also approved its first totally new settlement in over two decades.
The Higher Planning Council for Judea and Samaria is expected to meet in the coming weeks and is likely to advance plans for 3,000 more homes.
Hagit Ofran of left-wing group Peace Now said that in light of the surge in settlement planning, there would soon be a correlating spike in the number of settler housing starts unless the government dramatically changed its policy.
“Today’s [low number of] housing starts are the results of plans and tenders from two and three years ago,” she said.
In addition, she said, there was an unusually high number of settler housing starts in 2016 so it was only natural to see some decline.
The Trump administration does not have the same no tolerance attitude toward such construction as the Obama administration. It has frowned upon accelerated settlement activity, but has not condemned it.
The Council of Jewish Communities of Judea and Samaria had no response to the CBS report.
The CBS data also showed an increase of 16% in finished construction nation-wide over the last four quarters, when compared to the period of July 2015 to June 2016.
The only exception to the spike, were the northern region which dropped by 1% and Judea and Samaria which fell by 23%. The drop between the first two quarters of this year and the first half of last year also stood at 23%.
The Palestinian Authority has insisted that all settlement building is a stumbling block to peace and in the past has refused to talk with Israel until it halts such activity.
The Palestinian news agency WAFA published a statement on Monday from the Palestinian Authority Foreign Ministry which said: “Israel’s persistence, as an occupying power, in its settlement expansion at the expense of Palestinian land is due to the weak international response and increases Palestinian frustration in reaching a political settlement to the conflict.”