KARMEI TZUR, West Bank – 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.
Many are going up in areas that under practically any peace scenario would become part of a Palestinian state, a trend that could doom U.S.-brokered peace talks.
According to an Associated Press count, ground has been broken on 544 new West Bank homes since Sept. 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.
The renewed settlement construction has jeopardized peace talks relaunched only last month, with the Palestinians threatening to walk away if the freeze is not extended.
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 Israeli settlement watchdog Peace Now estimates there have been more than 600 housing starts and plans to release its own detailed report next week.