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You, like me, might have seen a Ha’aretz headline yesterday morning that read: “Israel Approves New West Bank Homes, Marking End of Informal Building Freeze.” You, like me, might have raised a few eyebrows at the suggestion that there’s been a settlement freeze in the West Bank. Make sure to read beyond the headline, because the rest of the article actually explains that settlement construction during the last eighteen months didn’t exactly “freeze:”
“The only [Settlement] plans that did move forward involved either legalization of existing outposts or master plans for areas where petitions to the High Court of Justice spurred the government to act.
Thus, for instance, a master plan for the Ma’aleh Mikhmash region, east of Ramallah, was advanced last November, apparently due to an impending hearing on High Court petitions, filed by the Yesh Din rights organization and local Palestinians, who are demanding that the government evacuate the nearby Mitzpeh Dani outpost. If implemented, the plan would legalize two outposts and add thousands of apartments to existing settlements.”
Even that explanation understates the ongoing construction. Peace Now’s Settlement Watch Director, Hagit Ofran, gave an interview with Al-Monitor in July, towards the end of the so-called “Settlement freeze,” where she revealed that there was a 200% jump in construction compared to the same period in the previous year. She continued:
“There is a lot of building going on, such as in the Ariel and Efrat settlements. It’s a real construction craze. We see Defense Minister [Moshe] Ya’alon authorizing all kinds of things to the settlers that had not been authorized before. It could be that at this moment it was decided to slow down the planning pace for tactical reasons, but the complaints only stem from the fact that they have become accustomed to a frenzied planning pace in recent years. The Netanyahu government, in contrast with what the settlers claim, is good to the settlers.”
So don’t be too shocked by the latest announcement — it’s been business as usual in Israel over the last eighteen months. All the more reason to work ever-more urgently to prevent further obstacles to a two-state solution.