Mensen die het nieuws volgen hebben de indruk dat er jaarlijks vele duizenden nieuwe woningen in de nederzettingen worden gebouwd. Om de haverklap lezen we dat Israel weer zoveel woningen gaat bouwen. Alleen al in het afgelopen half jaar zou het gaan om zeker 15000 nieuwe woningen, en dat tijdens de vredesbesprekingen onder leiding van VS-minister Kerry. Sommige artikelen spraken zelfs van 24.000 nieuwe woningen. ‘Wat bezielt Israel?’ vroeg ook ik me af bij het lezen van dergelijke cijfers.
In werkelijkheid wordt slechts een (heel) klein deel van al deze woningen ook daadwerkelijk gebouwd. Zo is in de tweede helft van 2013 met de bouw begonnen van ruim 800 nieuwe woningen. Voordat overgegegaan wordt tot de bouw moet een plan een aantal stadia doorlopen. In elk van deze stadia komt het in de politiek aan de orde en protesteren tegenstanders van de nederzettingen tegen de nieuwe plannen voor alweer zoveel woningen. De media, die over het algemeen fel anti-nederzettingen zijn, nemen dit grif over zonder vermelding van het precieze stadium van de plannen. Elder of Ziyon legt hieronder uit hoe op die manier hetzelfde bouwproject keer op keer in de media kan belanden, waardoor we de astronomische cijfers krijgen die antizionisten aangrijpen om rond te bazuinen hoe extreem anti-vrede Israel wel niet is.
Daarbij wordt vooral in de grote blokken gebouwd die volgens eerdere vredesvoorstellen bij Israel zouden blijven.
In the Washington Post, Jimmy Carter wrote another of his ridiculous op-eds where he describes Hamas as the greatest thing since peanut butter while Israel is unequivocally evil.
Others have ripped it apart, but I want to concentrate on one of his factoids:
During the previous nine months of negotiation, 14,000 new Israeli settlement units were approved, more than 3,000 Palestinians were arrested and 50 were killed, provoking troubling examples of Palestinian retaliation, including the deaths of three Israelis.
Notice how in Carter's funhouse mirror universe only Israel is the aggressor and the Palestinians only "retaliate."
But let's look at the part that really gets the world upset: "14,000 new Israeli settlement units were approved." We've seen these numbers in the media as well.
Is it true?
Well, no. It depends on what you mean by "approved." Peace Now counted tenders for 4,868 units and "promotion of plans" for 8,983 units.
What exactly does this mean?
Peace Now helpfully explains it in another link.
A Tender is one of the last procedures before a construction can get started. The tender, which comes only after the approval and validation of a plan, is actually the governmental publication of a call for proposals to buy the rights to build the project. After the bidding process is completed and the contractor is elected, then he or she would apply for a construction permit from the municipality and after getting the permit, they can start the works.
However, not all tenders get turned into housing. Many of them don't go through. Peace Now says that 1,235 additional tenders during the nine-month period were re-issued because no one bid on them.
But when we talk about "approvals" or "promotion of plans" we really get into fuzzy math.
In West Bank settlements, almost every stage of the approval by the Civil Administration Planning Council must be approved by the Minister of Defense. There is no need for any Ministerial approval for plans in Israel or in East Jerusalem.
1) Approval at the local municipality committee - this stage is significant only in Israel and East Jerusalem. After this approval the plan is sent to the Regional Committee for Planning and Construction of the Ministry of Interior in Israel and in East Jerusalem or, in West Bank settlements, to the Settlement Subcommittee of the Higher Council for Planning in the Civil Administration.
2) Approval for “depositing” – the decision of the Regional Committee (in East Jerusalem) or of the Higher Council for Planning of the Civil Administration (in West Bank Settlements) to allow the publication of the plan for public objections. Takes few months until the plan is ready to be published – usually the committee will ask to make some changes before the publication. The Minister of Defense must approve that the plan will be discussed by the Higher Council for Planning of the Civil Administration.
3) Depositing - Publication an ad in three newspapers (two in Hebrew and one in Arabic) announcing that the plan is subject to public objections for 60 days. The Minister of Defense must approve the publication of plans that are deposited for West Bank settlements.
4) Discussion of the Objections – the Regional Committee (in Israel and in East Jerusalem) or the Settlement Subcommittee of the Higher Council for Planning in the Civil Administeration (in West Bank settlements) hears the objections and recommends whether to make changes in the plan or to reject it or not. Here too, the Minister of Defense must approve the Higher Council to convene.
5) Approval for validation – after all the changes are made, the Regional Committee (in Israel and in East Jerusalem) or the Settlement Subcommittee of the Higher Council for Planning in the Civil Administration (in West Bank settlements) again discusses the plan to allow its validation. The Minister of Defense approve the Higher Council to convene.
6) Publication of validation – a publication of an ad in three newspapers (two in Hebrew, one in Arabic) that the plan is valid. The Minister of Defense must approve the publication.15 days following the final publication the plan is valid. Only after these publications can the plan be implemented.
Any one of these stages is considered "approvals" for the media. Peace Now claims that "in many cases " they are all done at once, but whether that means 20% or 80% of the cases they don't say.
There is another stage too:
When a plan is valid, any initiator who got the rights to build (either by winning a tender or by a private purchase), can apply for a construction permit from the Local Municipality. This is mainly a bureaucratical procedure - to make sure that the construction is according to the approved plan and that all safety, environment, infrastructure etc. requirements are met. Obtaining a construction permit might take a few months, and then the construction may begin.
How about this strange phrase "promotion of plans"?
In the media discourse almost all of the above stages can be described as: “the plan was approved” – sometimes it’s approved to be deposited, sometimes approved to be validated or approved at the local committee. Although the practical meaning of each stage is different, the political significance of each stage is the same: the plan is promoted, and that demonstrates an intention to move forward.
OK, let's count: how many times can a single apartment unit be "approved" or have "promotion of plans"?
According to Peace Now's own documentation, as many as 8 approvals go into every unit (including tenders.)
And not all tenders go through either.
But there is one number that cannot be disputed - the number of units for which construction actually began. Given that Netanyahu has been in power for a long time now, you would think that the pipeline of approvals has been pretty consistent, so the number of actual housing starts should be a bit more accurate than the double, triple and octuple-counting that left-wing Israeli groups are using. If there are 14,000 units "approved" over a nine month period, one would expect that certainly, say, over 10,000 would get built over the same time period several years later, right?
How many units were actually started? For the second half of 2013, Peace Now says the number was only 828.
Peace Now says that the amount of settlement development is "unprecedented." Yet from 2001-2007, some 10,000 units were built - about the same rate as now, and in percentage growth terms the earlier ones were much higher.
To do some back of the envelope calculations: If we generously assume 6 people per unit, and 1500 housing starts in 2013, this means that the rate of units built last year was only half the rate of the Jewish population growth in Judea and Samaria (based on 3% increase from 2009 to 2010).
In other words, the anti-settlement crowd will purposefully inflate the numbers, count a single unit multiple times, and downplay the true amount of construction to grossly exaggerate the idea that the settlers are taking over the West Bank.
But don't take my word for it. Just read the fine print in Peace Now's own reports.