New construction in the West Bank skyrocketed in 2013 compared to 2012, new Israeli data revealed on Monday.
The Central Bureau of Statistics reported an increase of 123 percent in construction of new homes in the West Bank in 2013 compared to 2012, a ratio dramatically higher than in the other other six districts examined. The southern district, coming in second, witnessed an increase of 12%, Haifa 8%, Jerusalem 3%, central Israel 2%, and northern Israel 1%. New construction in the Tel Aviv district dropped 19% between 2012 and 2013.
Settlement construction is consistently cited by the United States and the West as the main Israeli impediment to a peace agreement with the Palestinians.
In an interview published by Bloomberg journalist Jeffrey Goldberg just hours before his meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday, US President Barack Obama spoke out forcefully on settlement construction, saying it would irrevocably entrench Israel in the West Bank against its own long-term interests.
“The only thing that I’ve heard is, ‘We’ll just keep on doing what we’re doing, and deal with problems as they arise. And we’ll build settlements where we can and where there are problems in the West Bank, we will deal with them forcefully. We’ll cooperate or co-opt the Palestinian Authority.’ And yet, at no point do you ever see an actual resolution to the problem,” Obama said.
According to the Israeli numbers, there were 2,534 new housing starts in the West Bank in 2013, compared to 1,133 units in 2012.
The new data sparked harsh criticism from the Israeli political left.
“Well done for Netanyahu,” Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog said sarcastically in a statement posted to his Facebook page. “He could win the Best Actor award in the Oscars. It takes 12 years of slavery to buy an apartment in Israel, unless you live beyond the Green Line. This is no movie, it’s reality.”
Zahava Gal-on, head of the Meretz party, told Ynet that construction in the settlements “leads us on a collision course with the Americans and the Europeans and stalls the negotiations.” She called on Netanyahu to “come to his senses immediately” and invest in construction within the Green Line.
But a spokesman for Housing Minister Uri Ariel chose to focus on what he said was a 16-year record in housing construction in progress, ignoring the discrepancies between regions within the country.
“I’m glad that the data on construction starts exceeds the forecasts and the misguided announcements of various people in the media,” Ariel said.
Meanwhile, Finance Minister Yair Lapid sent a message of encouragement to Netanyahu ahead of his meeting with Obama in Washington on Monday afternoon.
“You have political backing for a diplomatic resolution,” Lapid told his party at a meeting in the Knesset. “Just because there are three or four rebellious MKs in the coalition doesn’t mean there’s no need to reach an agreement; for that there are 19 ministers and MKs of Yesh Atid,” Lapid said. He did not specify which MKs he considered opponents of the peace process.