Netanyahu imposing quiet US-requested building freeze

Monday, October 18, 2010 |  Ryan Jones

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did allow the self-imposed Israeli building freeze in Judea and Samaria to expire last month. He likely would have lost his ruling coalition had he not done so. But Israel’s largest newspaper revealed on Sunday that despite public announcements, in practice the building freeze remains very much in place, and has in fact spread to Jerusalem.

Yediot Ahronot reported that even though all political restrictions were to be removed from Jewish building in Judea and Samaria, thousands of planned homes and apartments are not receiving the government approval they need to move forward.

Construction projects in Judea and Samaria, even in established Jewish towns there, require the approval of the Defense Ministry, a process that until last year was a simple one. But now officials working for Defense Minister Ehud Barak are putting as many roadblocks as possible in front of contractors trying to transition new projects from the blueprint phase to the actual construction phase.

Even in Jerusalem, which Netanyahu insisted never was and never will be part of any Jewish building freeze, the paper reported that 1,300 housing units that contractors are ready to begin work on are being denied final approval.

Last week, the government did approve a miniscule 240 new housing units in the northern Jerusalem neighborhood of Pisgat Zeev. The move elicited an international outcry, and grand Palestinian pronouncements that Israel did not really want peace.

According to Yediot Ahronot, the plans originally approved also included another 600 apartments in the southern neighborhood of Har Homa, but Netanyahu cut them after the Obama Administration said that would be too many new Jewish homes in Jerusalem.

A real estate broker told the newspaper that the policy is “a disaster for Jerusalem,” and will “create an immense shortage of apartments within a year or two, and dramatic price hikes.”

Already the Jerusalem Municipality has had trouble attracting young Israeli couples to move to the capital, where real estate prices are disproportionately high and job opportunities are few. The new shortage will only exacerbate that problem, as the above real estate agent predicted.

The general building freeze in Judea and Samaria is having a similar effect on other parts of the country. Many Israelis used to turn to the Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria when prices got a little high in metropolitan areas. But with the building freeze, house prices in Judea and Samaria are skyrocketing, which is increasing demand in other areas, which in turn is also bringing up prices there.

In short, Israelis are finding it increasingly difficult (for many it has become impossible) to buy a home in their own country because the international community doesn’t like Jews building on lands the Arabs claim as their own.

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