Just hours before Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu sat down to talk with U.S. President Barack Obama at the White House on Monday, Israel’s central bureau of statistics announced that housing construction in Yehudah and Shomron had more than doubled in 2013.
The news was likely to ratchet tensions up even further before the summit, prior to which Obama had warned he would push Netanyahu on peace talks, and Netanyahu had declared he would resist such pressure.
In its annual summary of the Israeli housing market, the bureau said work began on 2,534 new housing units in the region, compared to 1,133 in 2012. Nationally, Israel had a 3.4 percent increase in housing starts over the same period.
The newly released figures triggered sharp reactions back in Israel, as Netanyahu’s critics castigated him for it, while proponents of building said it wasn’t enough.
“While Netanyahu meets with Obama, the truth behind his government is revealed in all its glory — a spike of more than twice in construction,” said opposition leader Isaac Herzog said.
“We take one step forward, then take a few back, only now time is running out.” Herzog said.
Meretz chairwoman Zahava Gal-On said Israel “has a distorted set of priorities.” She told Ynet that “the construction leads us on a collision course with the Americans and the Europeans, and delays the negotiations. The prime minister needs to pull himself together immediately, and invest in housing and construction within the Green Line for the benefit of the Israeli citizens, and not just for the benefit of the [residents of Yehudah and Shomron].”
On the other side of the political divide, Yesha Council claimed that in terms of quantity, the region lags behind, with the lowest number of new constructions than any other area in the country, and that the bureau’s statistics present a misleading picture.
“The increase in new construction in 2013 is caused by the halt in construction tenders in 2012, to a point where there was hardly any construction that year,” said Yesha Council Deputy Director Yigal Dilmoni, “thus, any construction in the subsequent year will appear as a dramatic increase.”
According to Dilmoni, the 2013 construction was “a limited, small and insufficient building — mainly due to the fact that the population growth rate in Yehudah and Shomron is two and half times the growth rate in other areas.
“We call on the government to immediately release all the frozen building tenders in Yehudah and Shomron and therefore increase the supply of housing that is very close to central Israel and aid lowering prices in Gush Dan and Yerushalayim.”