The Tel Aviv-based ‘Peace Now’ group says Israeli settlers have started building more than 600 homes in the West Bank since the end of a construction ban on 26th September.
That represents a rate four times faster than in the previous two years, and much of the new building is outside existing settlement blocks.
“The real question is what tomorrow will look like if the settlement freeze is extended. Then you will see a significant slowdown in construction, but if it’s not, they will easily make up for the gap created by the settlement moratorium over the least few months,” said Peace Now’s Hagot Ofran.
The Palestinian reaction to the housing boom has been one of alarm, and a fear it will totally derail the peace process.
“Settlements are a unilateral act, it’s an aggressive act, it’s a colonial act, and what is the point of you building settlements when we are sitting down to negotiate the total elimination and evacuation of these settlements? So there is a big contradiction between what the Israelis are saying and what they are doing,” lamented the Palestinian Housing Minister Mohammed Ishtayeh.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has downplayed the importance of the building surge.
He said: “The discussions about new constructions in the settlements is an artificial obstacle to the peace talks. The Palestinians themselves are saying that all the constructions in the settlements are taking only a small percentage of the area and the additional building is negligible on the settlement map.”
Many Israelis are convinced of their right to build, and their political representatives are vital for the continued survival of Netanyahu’s coalition government, while angry Palestinians could make life impossible for President Mahmoud Abbas.