According to the Israeli watchdog group Peace Now, Israeli settlers living in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, in violation of international law, have engaged in a frenzy of building since the partial moratorium on construction was lifted unilaterally by the Israeli government on September 27th. Palestinians, on whose land the settlements are being constructed, had no say in the matter.According to Peace Now’s count, since the end of the freeze in October 26th, building has begun on 1,629 housing units, with foundations dug for 1,116 of them.Of the works started in 63 settlements, 46 of them are east of the Separation Barrier and 17 on the western side of it.
In all of year 2009, according to the Israeli CBS data, the works on 1,888 new housing units have started. Had the construction continued at the same speed without the Freeze, there would have been started 1,574 units during the 10 months of the freeze. In the 6 weeks since the end of the freeze, the settlers managed to start a similar number of units.
A Peace Now spokesperson said, “It turns out that the Settlement Freeze was no more than a 10 months delay in the construction, and the settlers managed to fill-in the gap very fast. The Government of Israel must renew the Freeze in a way that will stop all settlement activity including the projects that started in the last few weeks, until there is a final agreement between the Palestinians and Israel regarding the borders and the future of the settlements”.
Peace Now conducted many field trips and aerial tours in the last few weeks in order to be able to estimate the number of new construction starts in the settlements. As expected, without an official settlement freeze the settlers started to renew the construction in those places where the work was stopped because of the moratorium, and to start new projects as well.
According to Peace Now, “It seems that the effort by the settlers is to get to dig the foundations of the buildings as fast as possible, assuming that when there’s another moratorium it will be based on the same criteria of the previous one: structures that already have foundations – could be completed; Structures that don’t, were stopped according to the freeze order. This is why the settlers are in a kind of a race to dig the foundations as fast as possible even if the infrastructure (the sewage systems, roads, electricity etc.) are not completed yet.”
Most of the construction today is taking place in the settlements that are more isolated, further deep in the West Bank and more ideological. According to Peace Now, the reason for the rise in the construction in the more isolated settlements as opposed to the bigger settlements that are closer to Israel is mainly because the Government of Israel has not approved many new projects in the last few years. In the bigger settlements, closer to Israel, the construction is mainly initiated by the government and most of the construction must be approved by the Minister of Defense before it can start.
According to the numbers obtained by Peace Now, the Netanyahu government approved the construction of some 630 housing units (another 1,500 units were approved by Minister Barak during the year 2008 before the Netanyahu government was established). Most of those units are currently under construction and there are not too many units left to construct in the already approved projects.
However, in most of the isolated settlements, the settlers do not need another approval by the government, and they can build thousands (approx. 13,000) of units based on old approvals given in the past. Most of the construction we see today is based on very old approvals.
All Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank are considered illegal under international law and the Fourth Geneva Convention, as they are constructed to transfer civilian population onto land illegally seized from the indigenous Palestinian population by military force.