Housing in West Bank Skyrocketed Last Year, Complicating Loan Deal

A series of reports released in recent weeks highlight the difficulty Israel will face in trying to uncouple its settlement policies in the administered territories from the $10 billion in loan guarantees it is requesting from Washington.

The reports — which include a leaked Housing Ministry document, an official paper of the Finance Ministry and a compilation from Peace Now — differ in how they count construction in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, in what periods they measure and to some extent in the numbers themselves.

The common denominator, however, is that 1991 saw a marked increase in housing construction in the disputed territories.

And according to two of the three reports, enough housing has been started in the West Bank in the past two years to boost the area’s Jewish population by 60 to 100 percent.

The smallest figures are those in a Finance Ministry report prepared for the negotiations with Washington and published in the Israeli daily Ha’aretz. It counts 6,435 housing starts in the first nine months of 1991, compared to 1,820 in all of 1990 and 1,410 in 1989.

These figures put settlement construction at only 10 percent of overall construction, which totaled 62,320 housing starts during the same period of 1991.

But Peace Now, in its report, said these and other official figures are marred by “a dense smokescreen around the settlement process in an effort to divert criticism.”

The highest figures were those of internal Housing Ministry documents, released by opposition Knesset members Dedi Zucker of the Citizens Rights Movement and Haim Oron of Labor.

13,000 UNITS IN LAST YEAR

Counting from April 1990, when Ariel Sharon assumed the ministry’s helm, more than 18,000 housing units were built or begun in the West Bank alone, besides 5,000 mobile homes. According to that document, the housing built in the territories represented fully one-quarter of all that put up by the government in that period.

Similarly, Peace Now said at least 13,000 housing units were under construction in 1991.

This compares to fewer than 20,000 units built during the entire period between 1967 and 1990, at which time the Jewish population in the territories was estimated at 75,000. About 1 million. Arabs live in the West Bank, and 750,000 in the Gaza Strip. Peace Now says the Jewish population in the territories has risen to 99,000 — less than the 112,000 claimed by the settler movement. But the present construction is laying the foundation for the influx of an additional 50,000 people.

How much all this cost is a matter of dispute, but of increasing importance given the determination of U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) to deduct Israeli expenditures on settlements from the amount of loans guaranteed by Washington.

Peace Now put the expenditures last year at over $1 billion.

(Contributing to this report were JTA correspondents Gil Sedan in Jerusalem and Hugh Orgel in Tel Aviv, and JTA staff writer Larry Yudelson in New York.)

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