Karmei Tzur: Israeli settlers have begun building new homes at an extraordinary pace since the government lifted its moratorium on West Bank housing starts — almost 550 in three weeks, more than four times faster than the last two years.
And many homes are going up in areas that under practically any peace scenario would become part of a Palestinian state, a trend that could doom US-brokered peace talks.
According to a report, ground has been broken on 544 new West Bank homes since September 26, when Israel lifted its 10-month freeze on most new settlement building.
The survey, while not comprehensive, marks the most extensive effort yet to quantify the construction. It was based on visits to 16 of the West Bank`s more than 120 settlements as well as phone calls to more than four dozen settlements and interviews with construction workers and mayors.
"This figure is alarming and is another indicator that Israel is not serious about the peace process, which is supposed to be about ending the occupation," said Ghassan Khatib, spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas` self-rule government in the West Bank.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has played down the new construction, saying it "has no real effect on the map of a possible (peace) agreement”.
However, the renewed settlement construction has jeopardised peace talks re-launched only last month, with the Palestinians threatening to walk away if the freeze is not extended. And it could make the daunting task of partitioning the land even more difficult.
The building spurt of the past three weeks compares to average annual housing starts of about 2,000 in recent years, including just under 1,900 in 2009 and just over 2,100 in 2008, according to government figures. That is a rate of about 115 in three weeks, making the current pace more than four times faster.
The actual number is likely higher.