Israel’s War Against Palestine: Documenting the Military Occupation of Palestinian and Arab Lands

Dror Etkes: Settlement freeze? It was barely a slowdown

28 September 2010

By Dror Etkes, Haaretz – 28 Sept 2010

The official statistics supplied by the Central Bureau of Statistics describe the story behind the 10-month construction moratorium in the West Bank. The story can be called many things but “freeze” is certainly not one of them. What took place in the past few months is, in the best case scenario, not more than a negligible decrease in the number of housing units that were built in settlements.

The data that appeared in the bureau’s tables clearly show that. At the end of 2009, the number of housing units that were actively being built on all the settlements together amounted to 2,955. Three months later, at the end of March 2010, the number stood at 2,517. We are therefore talking about a drop of a little more than 400 housing units – some 16 percent of Israeli construction in the West Bank over that period.

The sounds of lamentation and wailing coming from the settler functionaries, for whom moaning is a profession, shouldn’t surprise anyone. After all, they did not cease to whine even when Ehud Barak, “the leader of the peace camp,” built 4,700 housing units for them in 2000, the only entire year he held the position of prime minister.

But the truth is that the settlers know better than anyone else that not only did construction in settlements continue over the last 10 months, and vigorously, but also that a relatively large part of the houses were built on settlements that lie east of the separation fence, such as Bracha, Itamar, Eli, Shilo, Maaleh Mikhmas, Maon, Carmel, Beit Haggai, Kiryat Arba, Mitzpeh Yeriho and others.

The real story behind the PR stunt known as the freeze took place in fact in the months prior to that, during which the settlers, with the assistance of the government, prepared well for the months of hibernation foisted upon them. In the half year that preceded the declaration of the freeze, which started at the end of November 2009, dozens of new building sites sprang up, especially in isolated and more extreme settlements east of the fence.

This piece of information is also well documented in the bureau’s numbers. In the first half of 2009, they started to build 669 housing units in the settlements, and then, as the months wore on, the pace of construction increased. Thus in the second half of 2009, no fewer than 1,204 housing units were built – an increase of some 90 percent in construction starts as compared with the first half of the year.

That is a summary of the “Israbluff” behind the freeze. All that was left for the politicians to do in the past few months was – wearing expressions of sorrow – to invite television crews every few months to film how the administration’s inspectors were destroying some miserable hut built in contravention of the freeze order.

If we add to these statistics the fact that the government announced in advance that it planned to approve, in any circumstances and with no connection to the “freeze,” the construction of 600 housing units in various settlements, and the chaos and anarchy that exists in some settlements and outposts, making it possible for every person to build where and when he feels like it, we shall get quite a good picture of what really happened to the settlements in the past few months.

For their part, the Palestinians did not really ask for a total freeze on construction. They demanded, and justifiably so, to once and for all get recognition of the principle that negotiations on the future of the settlements not take place while they are continuing to be built up. Accordingly, the Palestinians agreed to turn a blind eye to the construction so long as the official freeze policy of the Israeli government continued.

Those who know the reality in the West Bank should not be surprised at what is written here. However it seems that it is possible nevertheless to take comfort from one thing – Benjamin Netanyahu will probably not win the Nobel Peace Prize but he is certainly likely to win the Nobel Prize for Physics, or at least Chemistry, in the name of the Israeli government, which discovered that – contrary to what scientists had thought until now – water is not the only substance that expands instead of contracting when it freezes.

IOA Editor: Dror Etkes is the director of Peace Now’s Settlements Watch Project.

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