The figures publicized last week about building starts in Yehudah and Shomron are stunning. Throughout 2012, just 34 apartments were begun. In the first six months of this year, not a single new apartment has begun being built. On the other hand, the Palestinians are experiencing a construction explosion that has not been since the Six-Day War.
The Givat Ulpanah neighborhood of Beit El, in the Binyamin region, was only demolished after the residents reached an agreement with the government that 300 homes would be approved for construction in the town. The settlers believed that an agreement is an agreement, and asked for one small thing in addition. On the outskirts of the area, a local Beit El contractor had been in the middle of building a six-floor apartment building. He completed the first three stories, and before he could proceed further, the High Court intervened and issued a stop work order. The Givat Ulpanah residents demanded that their agreement include the completion of those three floors.
The government representatives pledged that the deal would include 300 apartments plus the three floors.
Since then, almost a year has passed. The area on which the buildings with the 300 apartments was supposed to be built has been enclosed with a fence, and the contractor of the other building has began to rev his engines, so to speak, to complete his building. But nothing happened. Not a single tractor has begun to break the ground for construction. Residents have even begun talking about a blitz operation to rebuild Givat Ulpanah. They don’t believe anyone anymore. “An agreement isn’t an agreement either,”they say.
But Beit El is not a lone case. The same thing is happening throughout Yehudah and Shomron, including Yerushalayim. There is no building. Everything is completely frozen. The figures published this week on housing starts in Yehudah and Shomron are stunning. For the entire 2012, construction began on just 34 homes in the region. In the first six months of this year, not a single apartment has been built. On the other hand, the Palestinians are in the midst of a construction boom the likes of which has not been seen since the Six-Day War. They are even building in Area C, which is under full Israeli sovereignty. They plan to complete three new cities, nine medium-sized towns and tens of thousands of apartments all over Yehudah and Shomron.
Army Radio reported last week that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has ordered that no new construction plans be approved in Yehudah and Shomron due to American pressure. The new housing minister, Uri Ariel, compiled all the plans in the pipeline for the construction of hundreds of apartments. Some of them already received government approval on the eve of the elections, in response to the Palestinian moves in the United Nations, and the rest are new applications. In actuality, however, not a single one of those plans has been executed. It is all frozen.
Housing Minister Ariel said this week openly at a meeting of the Knesset Oversight Committee discussing housing issues, “I am incensed at the building freeze in Yehudah and Shomron in recent months. This is a freeze that was implemented without my knowledge, and if you have questions about who and why the freeze was decided upon, ask the Prime Minister directly.”
Ariel’s aides related in the corridors during the session that according to instructions that the Israel Lands Administration received, it has not issued any new tenders for the sale of lots in Yehudah and Shomron, including in the large communities and cities; and this includes the greater Yerushalayim area.
Deputy Minister Ofir Akunis was sent this week to the Knesset to respond to questions that were posed regarding the building freeze — and denied everything: “We’re building and we will continue to build.” Uri Ariel sat in the Knesset when this was said, and emitted a few choice words that are not suitable to be printed.
On the other hand, the Palestinians are building freely. Yigal Dilmoni and Akiva Bigman of the research department of the Yesha Council have completed a broad study this week regarding Palestinian construction. They determined that “the plan that the previous Palestinian prime minister, Salam Fayyad, created, has been launched. The Palestinians are stealing huge swathes of Yehudah and Shomron. They don’t ask anyone, and build wherever they want, focusing on Area C, which is under complete Israeli control.”
“The massive extent of the Palestinian construction makes it impossible to keep ignoring [it],” Bigman and Dilmoni stress.
This phenomenon is part of the policy of Salam Fayyad, which was presented in August 2009 in a detailed document titled “The End of the Occupation and Establishment of the State.” In this framework, Fayyad determines that the state that will be established will span the entire Yehudah and Shomron, based on 1967 borders, including East Yerushalayim.
“In order to succeed in establishing a state on all of Yehudah and Shomron, the PA is working on the assumption that Fayyad left behind when he resigned in March, to blur the divisions of Areas A, B and C. Facts are being determined on the ground there — with the emphasis on Area C,” the report said.
Fayyad said in an interview to an Arab daily A Sharq al Awsat: “Many think that Area C has gone from being occupied territory to disputed territory. We firmly claim that these are Palestinian lands upon which we will establish our state.”
In a later interview, this time to al Quds, Fayyad expounded further: “We are in the middle of Area C. We have begun operating on all of our land, including this area. This is an area of development that is open to the Palestinian Authority. We’ve begun planning two Palestinian airports, one in the Jordan Valley, in Area C, and the other in Atarot [in Yerushalayim]. Every spot on this area is a test for us. A test for us and for Israel.”
At other opportunities it was cited that “Salam Fayyad doesn’t know how to read the letter…C.”
Throughout Yehudah and Shomron there are entities working with the Palestinian Authority on wide-ranging infrastructure projects, all of which are laid out in the plans drafted by Fayyad.
The Defense Ministry has exact figures and details about these projects, but for various reasons, access to the information is being denied. Instead, the heads of the councils in Yehudah and Shomron, in conjunction with the Yesha council research arm, drafted an alternative list based on reports from the field and their own surveillance.
The figures, emphasize the researchers, are only partial, and it’s safe to assume that there are many additional projects in progress.
Analysis of the findings indicate that the Palestinian leadership is working to take control over areas under Israeli control, Area C, by setting facts on the ground, in a way that will bring about a de facto recognition of a Palestinian entity on the borders of 1967.
The PA is clearly working to achieve several strategic goals:
Creating a contiguous urban Palestinian entity: The plan to build new cities and to increase the density of existing cities is intended to create large Palestinian urban blocs, which will strengthen their hold on the area.
Isolating the Jewish communities: The Palestinian construction will isolate the Jewish blocs and break off the contiguity between them. The Jewish areas will become dangerous enclaves within a hostilely populated area. This objective is clearly obvious in the new construction in the Binyamin region: the construction of the city of Rawabi and its direct connection to the Ramallah highway will effectively cut off the western Binyamin region (the Neve Tzuf-Ateret bloc). The addition of another city in eastern Binyamin will complete the isolation of the area from the east by creating a contiguous, dense, Palestinian urban bloc.
Taking hold of strategic arteries: The various building plans are intended to take control of vital areas that abut strategic arteries in the region. Mostly, this is being done through projects with a humanitarian character, such as establishing schools, health clinics and other public institutions. For example, a school is being built near the village of Beit Sira, which is right on Route 441. Additional schools are being built in Chevron, near Route 159 and Route 70.
Control over natural resources: Some of the projects are meant to develop natural resources and utilize them for the benefit of the Palestinian population. This will result in effective PA control of joint natural resources, and the creation of a dependency on them that will bring about a humanitarian problem in the event that Israel regains control. For these reasons, the Palestinians are likely to receive de facto recognition of their ownership and usage of these resources.
Control over infrastructures and their land: Developing broad infrastructures in the region will bring about recognition of the PA’s ownership of those facilities. Western countries have invested enormous sums of money into those infrastructures, and will not want to see that money go to waste, and thus will recognize that the Palestinians own them. It should be noted that ownership of infrastructure includes control of the areas that surround the actual installation, the natural resources there and underground strata relating to the infrastructure.
So there are two sides here: those for whom construction and expansion is totally frozen, and those who are building with excessive frenzy. For the former, every day that goes by results in further loss of their land. While Israel is being led by a right-wing government, its actions are quite on the left side of the spectrum.
Who Is Wasting State Money?
An analysis of the various expenses that Israel expends to build Jewish communities in Yehudah and Shomron compared to the expenses that are caused by the opponents reveals very interesting figures in response to the question of who wastes more of Israel’s money. Surprisingly, the answer is unequivocal.
So, how much do the Jewish communities in Yehudah and Shomron really cost?
While some politicians, primarily from the left, and journalists, blame the State of Israel for wasting the state’s funds on so-called “settlements,” there are also senior journalists and economists — who are not religious — whose opinion is completely different.
Those who really understand budgets are the ones who know the truth:
Udi Nissan, a former head of the budget department in the Finance Ministry, implodes the myth in an interview with The Marker: The investment in the communities isn’t big money today. “There were heavy investments in the settlements when the infrastructure was being built there. Today, no new infrastructure is being built, so there isn’t a lot of money being invested there.”
Professor Yaron Zelicha, former Accountant General at the Finance Ministry: “Who knows like I do how much is really spent on the settlements: It’s not a lot. I don’t want to express political views, but it’s not a lot.”
Guy Rolnick, editor of The Marker: “The slogans of ‘sharing the burden’ and ‘settlements’ are good ways to attract voters, and to rile everyone up and create an economic agenda, but the big money is long not found among the chareidim nor behind the Green Line.”
The question of Jewish presence in Yehudah and Shomron has been disputed in Israeli society for decades. It is a legitimate, political ideological dispute, and each side expresses its opinion and works in democratic ways to influence it.
With all due respect to its legitimacy as a dispute, there is a tendency to mix facts and figures that are irrelevant and which divert the discussion from its rightful focus.
In a manipulative move, the Peace Now movement presented a false impression as though those Jews who make their homes in Yehudah, Shomron and the Jordan Valley receive preferential
budgets compared to other residents of the state. Reading Peace Now’s material reveals an amateur collection of figures, and demagoguery in presenting them.
We spoke with the heads of the Yesha Council, who address five major points that refute those claims:
1. The residents of Yehudah and Shomron are citizens with equal rights and obligations.
The residents of Yehudah and Shomron fulfill all their obligations towards the state (taxes, property taxes, army service, volunteerism) but according to Peace Now, they should be discriminated against and should not receive the basic rights that every Israeli citizen is entitled to.
Construction of Schools: The Mandatory Education Law obligates every citizen to send his children to schools, and schools are built in accordance with the needs of the population. In Yehudah and Shomron there is a young population (according to the Central Bureau of Statistics the average age is lower than among the general population), and therefore, there is a greater need for education institutions. Don’t children in Yesha deserve schools?
Industry and Agriculture: There are 1000 industry and agricultural factories in Yehudah and Shomron. Their operations bring in hundreds of millions of shekels in revenue for the state each year in taxes and from the employment of more then 20,000 people. The state’s investment in agriculture and industry in Yehudah and Shomron is proportionally lower than the yields to the state’s coffers. Don’t the industrialists in Yesha deserve the same basic government investment as industrialists in the rest of the country?
Interior Ministry: Interior Ministry operating budgets and grants are given to every local authority based on several indices: size, number of residents, socioeconomic standards and the like. Small towns in the Negev, Galilee and other places receive more than large population centers. The authorities in Yesha are also not similar one to another. There are six regional authorities, four cities, 13 local councils, and each one has a different index by which they are given budget allocation. There is no discrimination for the better, or preferential budgets, just like there aren’t in other local authorities.
Tourism and Heritage: Most Jewish heritage sites in Eretz Yisrael are located in Yehudah and Shomron. These sites tell the story of the Jewish nation. Hundreds of millions of shekels are invested all over the country to develop these sites and provide access to the general public and incoming tourism. The sites in Yehudah and Shomron attract hundreds of thousands of visitors, who provide a stream of revenue to the government coffers. Nevertheless, just NIS 17 million were invested in Yehudah and Shomron heritage sites. Economically and ethically, it would make sense to invest more in the heritage sites in Yehudah and Shomron.
2. Facts or Manipulation?
Peace Now presents numbers and figures in a way that’s convenient for them, and which distort the truth in order to unfairly influence Israeli public opinion.
According to Peace Now, the government expenditure for education is twice as much per student in Yesha than anywhere else in the country. When you read the small print, it emerges that Peace Now’s numbers don’t include the residents of Beitar Illit and Modiin Illit, where some 50,000 children live. Incorporating those children into the equation would bring down the investment per child in Yesha to the average level in Israel. It’s not comfortable for Peace Now, so they manipulate the numbers.
Furthermore, comparing educational budgets to the rest of the country is, in the best case, unprofessional. Comparing between regional councils and municipalities, for example, is amateur. Examination of the real figures shows that there are other local authorities in the country where the investment per child is much higher. Some examples of this are in the Eshkol regional council (NIS 13,000 per student) and Bnei Shimon (NIS 12,000 per student) compared to the Shomron regional council (NIS 5534 per student) and the Mateh Binyamin regional council (NIS 5913).
The budget for bulletproof transportation is a security expense that stemmed from the Oslo agreements. According to Peace Now’s bizarre definitions, the cost of the Cast Lead operation and Operation Pillar of Defense should be considered an investment in the residents of the Negev, as should reinforcing schools and kindergartens in the Gaza Envelope area, and operating the Iron Dome system.
3. Peace Now: The Organization That Wastes Government Money
A surprising figure was found in a Peace Now document. Needless expenses that the government has to pay for in Yehudah and Shomron are caused directly by the activities of the extreme left-wing groups. Peace Now, along with other such groups, are busy all year round trying to harm the settlements, among other things by filing petitions against them with the High Court, reporting to the Americans about housing starts, encouraging boycotts of goods produced there and more. And the citizens of Israel have to pay the expenses for these activities.
Their document shows the direct cost and damages that they cause to the state’s coffers:
Expenses to evacuate outposts: Establishing towns and outposts is usually done by the government and its institutions. As a result of High Court petitions filed by Peace Now and their leftist friends, the State of Israel has to take various actions, including evacuation of buildings, at high costs. The cost of moving the settlement of Migron to another location and demolishing Givat Ulpanah in Beit El could have been saved if the settlement position would have been accepted.
Expenses because of European boycott of products: The ones who indirectly encouraged the boycott are entities close to Peace Now. Now they are crying crocodile tears about the damage this causes to the state coffers.
Compensation for building freeze: the building freeze in Yesha has caused direct damage to developers and private people who have purchased homes or lots in the region and, as the result of an arbitrary decision, all building has been suspended. Peace Now supported this needless action that yielded no results aside from the financial damage to the developers and residents. It’s a shame about the waste of money, but what’s more infuriating is that today, Peace Now thinks they can give the Finance Minister economic recommendations.
4. How much have leftist plans cost? Or rather, what is the price of “peace”?
The heavy financial expenditures are really the ones that stem from the adoption of “peace” initiatives. It’s not settlements that increase the expenses, but rather the pullouts, retreating and escapes.
Some examples of this are:
Damages from the Oslo Accords, including terror attacks and the intifada, are estimated at NIS 30 billion.
The Disengagement: NIS 13 billion
Reinforcing the Gaza Envelope region, not including Ashkelon, Ashdod and Be’er Sheva: NIS 1 billion
Iron Dome Anti-Missile Batteries: NIS 2 billion
Operation of four Iron Dome batteries: NIS 2.4 billion
Operation Cast Lead, including civilian damages: NIS 4 billion (approx.)
Operation Pillar of Defense: NIS 3 billion
These amount to NIS 52 billion — which is equal to the annual defense budget of the entire State of Israel.
5. How much will the leftist plans to withdraw from Yesha cost?
The Left wants Israel to pull out from towns in Yesha ostensibly to save money, but today it is clear without a doubt that doing so is not at all a money-saving move. It is actually an impossible feat, economically.
Expelling the 8,000 residents of Gush Katif has cost the government NIS 13 billion to date. Doing the same to 150,000 settlers that are not residents of the large blocs will result in a cost of NIS 250 billion to the government coffers — a sum equivalent to the entire state budget for one year. Such a move will result in tremendous expenditures (even before we calculate building reinforcements and defense expenditures that will rise significantly because of a loss of strategic territory) and will compound the crowding and pressure on the cities of the central region.