…we have seen more aggressive settlement construction over the last couple years than we’ve seen in a very long time — Barack Obama, interview with Jeffrey Goldberg, March 2014
US and European officials obsessively cite “settlement construction” as an “obstacle to peace.” PLO negotiators use it as an excuse to refuse to sit down with Israelis:
The chief negotiator for the Palestinian Authority, Saeb Erekat, on Friday called the construction plans “a slap to Mr. Kerry’s efforts and a clear message by Israel’s prime minister: ‘Don’t continue with your peace efforts.’ ”
“Israel Doubled West Bank Settlement Construction in 2013” screams the headline of a Time magazine article. “If Palestinians come to believe that the possibility of a contiguous sovereign Palestinian state is no longer within reach, then our ability to manage the international fallout is going to be limited,” warns (or threatens) Obama.
Two things. First, a point about language. President Obama and most of the journalists who use the expression “settlement construction” are native English speakers. Yet they persist in using this misleading expression, which anyone who didn’t know differently would think means “building (new) settlements.” But in fact, the construction they are referring to is construction of houses and apartments within the boundaries of existing communities. The truth is that there have been virtually no new settlements established since the 1990s, except for unauthorized outposts which the government often demolishes by force.
Is there a deliberate intent to deceive? Certainly those who suggest that such construction “gobbles up land” are simply lying. The President carefully avoids saying this, referring only to his position that “settlements are illegitimate” (Europeans say “illegal”) and are “unhelpful” to the process, although he or other officials never explain exactly what “illegitimate” means or why the Palestinian claim on the land is justified.
Second, are new homes springing up like weeds? Based on the urgency expressed by the President, the Europeans and the Palestinians, one would think so. So how many new homes and apartments are being built? Time tells us:
Israel began work on 2,534 new housing units in the West Bank [Judea and Samaria] in 2013, according to the report — more than double the 1,133 units built in 2012.
This is an area with a Jewish population of more than 300,000, and a birthrate greater than 3 children per (Jewish) woman, in a country with a booming economy. For comparison, Bakersfield, California, with about the same population, a lower birthrate, and a somewhat depressed economy, built 2238 privately-owned dwelling units in 2013. I don’t see any aggression here, do you?
Keep in mind that Palestinians are also building “aggressively,” including a new “high-tech” city near Ramallah. There is also European-funded Arab construction throughout Area C, the part of the territories supposedly under complete Israeli control by the Oslo agreements. And there is continuous illegal building there as well.
You will recall that the Palestinians began insisting on freezing Jewish construction in Judea, Samaria and eastern Jerusalem in 2009, following the lead of none other than President Obama.
So not only is this a manufactured issue, but the biggest factory is in Washington, DC!