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Figures show: Peace talks and settlement construction go hand in hand

Successive Israeli governments have argued for years that settlements are not an obstacle to peace. The data tells a different story.

Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics revealed earlier this week that 2013 was a record year in settlement construction, while 2014 has seen the beginning of construction of 2,534 housing projects – a rise of 123 percent from 2013.

Settlement construction took place all over the West Bank – in the so-called settlement blocs, which could be annexed to Israel in a two-state framework; in isolated settlements that are slated to be evacuated under such an agreement; on the western side of Israel’s separation barrier (which was built inside the West Bank, rather than on the internationally-recognized border), as well as on its eastern side.

Those numbers do not include, however, significant “unofficial” construction taking place in “illegal” outposts, or construction in annexed East Jerusalem, which is not measured separately by the CBS.

Construction of illegal settlement units at 'Elkana,' on the lands of the West Bank village of Masha, near Salfit, July 06, 2013. (Photo: Ahmad Al-Bazz/Activestills.org)

Construction of housing units in the settlement of ‘Elkana,’ on the lands of the West Bank village of Masha, near Salfit, July 06, 2013. (Photo: Ahmad Al-Bazz/Activestills.org)

When last year’s figures were published in Israel, there was a considerable pushback from the right, which claimed that the rise in construction projects for Jews in the occupied territories was meant to compensate for an unofficial settlement freeze in 2012. However, the rise in construction last year is just as high when compared to 2011 or 2010. In fact, 2013’s figure is the highest since the CBS started publishing this data in 2001.

Most of the construction (1,710 projects) is government-sponsored, a figure that says a lot the Netanyahu’s government’s effort at changing the reality on the ground.

The only other years in which the number of building projects surpassed 2,000 structures were 2003, 2005 and 2008. The interesting thing is that aside from 2003, these were all years in which there was so-called “progress” made between Israel and the Palestinian Authority vis-a-vis peace negotiations. For example, 2005 was the year of the disengagement, while 2008 saw direct negotiations between Mahmoud Abbas and Ehud Olmert (the Annapolis summit, which began the process, took place in November 2007).

And while there is no earlier data on construction in the occupied territories, it is worth noting that during the Oslo process (from the signing of the first agreement in 1993 to the Taba summit in 2001) the number of settlers almost doubled – from 116,300 to 208,300, not including the Jewish neighborhoods in annexed East Jerusalem. Just during the short time Ehud Barak spent as prime minister, the number of Jews in the West Bank rose by 35,000, with settlers making up 3.2 percent of the Jewish population, as opposed to 1.7 percent when Oslo kicked off [1].

Click here for +972 Magazine’s full coverage of the diplomatic process

Successive Israeli governments have argued for years that settlements are not an obstacle to peace. However, those same prime ministers who directly negotiated with the Palestinians (or, in Sharon’s case, took unilateral action that was presented as an effort to end the occupation) were the ones who, at the very same time, strengthened Israel’s grip over occupied territory and transferred more Jews to what was supposed to be the heart of the future Palestinian State.

Periods in which talks didn’t take place and international attention was aimed at the reality on the ground (rather than diplomacy), were those in which Israel was relatively restrained in its colonization of the West Bank. According to CBS, the year with the lowest figures was 2010 (737 projects) – the year of the confrontation between the Obama administration and Netanyahu’s previous government, and the partial settlement freeze that followed.

[1] These figures are cited by Shaul Arieli in “A Border Between Us and You,” Yedioth Ahronoth Books, 2013, Hebrew.

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    1. Tomer

      There are already 400,000 Israelis in these Areas and their numbers will be half a million by the end of this decade (2020).

      The reality is that the re-named Jordanians of the 6 day war have missed the bus. Their dream of setting up a 22nd Arab state in this land has become an impossibility.

      Reply to Comment
      • talknic


        There are already 400,000 Israelis illegally in these Areas….

        “The reality is that the re-named Jordanians of the 6 day war have missed the bus”

        Odd. Jordan is a sovereign state, a UN member state

        “Their dream of setting up a 22nd Arab state in this land has become an impossibility”

        Strange ..the majority of the world community have recognized the State of Palestine.

        Reply to Comment
    2. Danny

      Very well.

      Onwards to a future of BDS and isolation (of course while hopelessly trying to circumvent sanctions by yelling at the top of our lungs ANTI-SEMITES IN MODERN GARB!!!)

      Thank you, Bibi, for making my country into the South Africa of the 21st century. Future generations will look upon you with the same opinion reserved today to the likes of P.W. Botha.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ginger Eis

        Danny the little Jihadi, Israel is your country? Ha!

        Reply to Comment
    3. If “peace” means an autonomous signatory, then expanding settlements obviously affects peace as it affects potential autonomy. Negotiations then must focus on withdrawal, and withdrawal entails high personal cost to Israelis there, so Israel can demand more in return, in fact thereby annexing other settlements in the agreement. We are there, so now you must concede to get rid of us (somewhat).

      Bibi is lying to someone, either his coalition partners which include a settler party, or the US and PA. One can argue Sharon broke a promise to the Gazan settlers, but I think that has made such lies now unpatriotic. We have then a lie to the West, perhaps not so much a lie as willful disregard for the niceties of negotiation, taunting its control.

      Negotiation is what losers do, no?

      Reply to Comment
    4. Kolumn9

      Israel will continue to build until the Palestinians agree to a negotiated solution. The longer they wait the less they will get. They can run around and threaten a ‘one state solution’ all they want. They can’t even force Israel to stop settling Judea and Samaria during negotiations. With what magical power do they believe they will manage to get Israelis to surrender their state? There may be some costs to this approach, but practically speaking, as far as the Palestinians are concerned the only things that really matter are the facts on the ground. Either they permanently accept in a negotiated outcome that they have failed in their quest to destroy Israel or they will continue to see their possible future state shrink.

      There are negotiations going on. These are negotiations to iron out the terms of Palestinian surrender. Whoever thought to dress this up for the Palestinians due to the niceties of negotiation is the one that is lying.

      Reply to Comment
      • Danny

        Wait till BDS reaches critical mass. Then we’ll see who surrenders to whom.

        Reply to Comment
        • Kolumn9

          I am still waiting for BDS to reach any mass.

          Reply to Comment
      • “stop settling Judea and Samaria” by someone who ever uses “Judea and Samaria?” Right…

        Reply to Comment
        • Kolumn9

          Judea and Samaria are the terms commonly used in Israel for the territories. Then again, you wouldn’t know.

          Reply to Comment
          • No, K9, I do know; Begin began to legitimize the term politically while PM. My point is that its use alienates prior residents in their own born land. It signals, from the start, they are secondary to those who name it.

            Once again you have falsely inferred something about your “opponent.” I wonder if there is a reason for that.

            Reply to Comment
          • Kolumn9

            Because I have read enough of your posts to understand the level of ignorance and arrogance that you express on a regular basis. That most Jews see Judea and Samaria as part of their homeland is an inconvenient fact for you and one that you insist in your vast American arrogance to ignore.

            Reply to Comment
    5. Ginger Eis

      Build! Baby Build! The buildings are concentrated WITHIN existing “Settlement”-blocs for which there is an understanding with the Palestinians that they will remain part of Israel in any future agreement. The “Settlements” in total constitute LESS THAN 4% of Judea & Samaria. Israel has NOT established- and is NOT establishing NEW “Settlements”. Period. There are NO “settlements” in Jerusalem, but rather neighborhoods, an example of which is Homat Shmuel/(Har Homa), parts of which is shown on this video a friend alerted me to. Watch and enjoy, people of good-will. The haters can “go and drink from the sea of Gaza!”


      Reply to Comment
    6. Yani

      Cheap houses on stolen land built by an industry that is highly profitable and can’t be stopped.

      A drive through of these developments reveals real estate banners hanging from street lights with some of the ugliest heads I’ve ever seen claiming to be ‘friendly faces’.

      The process of building squatter suburbs has been going on for so many years that they have become an industry with political influence, just as real estate does in any country. Usually it is just an environmental impact that is ignored, flora and fauna, they have merely extended the influence to property ownership and Palestinian populations.

      Netanyahu doesn’t drive the building of squatter suburbs. That’s a business venture that drives the policies. It may have once been the reverse but clearly squatter suburbs builders and sellers are the political lobby that drives policy.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ginger Eis

        There is NO “stolen property”, Yani. Your fathers and forefathers before you launched wars of annihilation to destroy the Joos(i.e. Jews) and throw them into the sea, remember? Ehmm, well, your fathers and forefathers LOST said wars THREE times. The lost Jewish “property” was re-CAPTURED! Deal with it! And get over it!

        Reply to Comment
    7. Average American

      Jewish expansion into the West Bank is just a warm-up. Jewish expansion will attempt to continue to the borders of “The Land Of Israel” as defined by the founding Zionists. This land includes Cyprus, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, half of Iraq (to the Euphrates) and Sinai (to the River of Egypt). This has always been the plan of Israel because Israel is a Zionist institution. Netanyahu uses the phrase The Land of Israel because he is a Zionist. Zionist Jews believe they have some sort of right to do this. Not everyone agrees.

      Reply to Comment
    8. Bar

      Nothing in this article indicates that settlements are an obstacle to peace. This claim plays well into the Palestinian narrative of why they can’t make peace with Israel, but we all know that Olmert and Barak offered to remove most settlers outside of the settlement blocs and those offers got nowhere.

      Noam, the real obstacle to peace is the Palestinian desire to take over Israel.

      Reply to Comment