Construction in Kiryat Arba (illustrative)
Construction in Kiryat Arba (illustrative)Israel news photo: Flash 90

Jewish growth in Judea and Samaria has outstripped Arab growth in the past three years – either because of or despite of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

The Associated Press reported the figures and reasoned that the Jewish growth of 18 percent in three years is a result of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s policies, but the truth may be the opposite. Under American pressure, he slapped a 10-month freeze on building new homes for Jews in Judea and Samaria in order to satisfy Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas’ conditions for a resumption of the moribund “peace process” for the establishment the Palestinian Authority as an independent country.

Abbas rejected the freeze as not fulfilling all of his demands, and direct talks never took place except for one short ceremonial discussion in Washington. When the freeze expired, Defense Minister Ehud Barak continued a de facto freeze, refusing to sign building permits for several months longer and choking off opportunities for newcomers to live in Judea and Samaria.

A large part of the 18 percent growth came from the relatively high birth rate of Jews in Judea and Samaria, not from new families moving from urban centers.

Another reason that the larger Jewish growth has nothing to do with Netanyahu is that the Arab growth rate in the Palestinian Authority – 2.8 percent in 2011 – is part of general trend of  a lower Arab birth rate the past several years as the Arabs become more urbanized and affluent.

The AP report included a claim from PA spokesman Ghassan Khatib that the growing Jewish population in Judea and Samaria is “consistent with Netanyahu’s commitment to maintain the Israeli control over the Palestinian territories and consistent with his lack of commitment to the establishment of a Palestinian state as part of a two-state solution.”

The report also included an embedded bias and arguable statements that Israel “has long sought to cement its hold on the West Bank, captured from Jordan in the 1967 Mideast war, by having masses of Jewish settlers live there.”

To the contrary, the Israeli government has honored its commitments to the Oslo Accords and has relinquished virtually all control over urban areas. It has even gone further than the agreements by allowing more Arab authority in ‘Area C,” which is designated as being under Israeli control because of the presence of large Jewish communities.

Regardless of the reasons, the 342,000 Jews living in Judea and Samaria, along with approximately 250,000 living in Jerusalem neighborhoods claimed by the Palestinian Authority, now represent 10 percent of Israel’s Jewish population and more than 15 percent of the total population in Judea and Samaria.

The report, widely publicized in American media, also wrongly described Israel’s presence in Judea and Samaria as a result of its “capture” if the land from Jordan in the Six-Day War in 1967.

As pointed out in a report last week by a government-appointed panel of three judicial experts, not only is Israel not an “occupier” but its citizens also have a right under international law to live and build in Judea and Samaria.

The panel, headed by former High Court Justice Edmund Levy, corrected an oft-reported and wrong assertion that all of Judea and Samaria were under authorized Jordanian sovereignty after the War for Independence in 1948 until the Six-Day War in 1967.

Israel did not “capture” the land. Jordan abandoned all of Judea and Samaria in its retreat, and the Israeli government held discussions with Amman concerning surrendering the areas, but they never reached any substantive agreement.

The anti-nationalist Peace Now group was aghast at the report of the growth of the Jewish population in Judea and Samaria. Peace Now official Hagit Ofran was quoted by the Associated Press as charging that the relatively higher construction rate of new homes outside concentrations of large Jewish populations proves that “ideological settlers, the more radical, religious ones, are growing in number.”

However, the statistics are misleading. Although only 70 percent of the construction in the past 2.5 years was in major population centers, compared with 80 percent in the past, the actual number of homes was smaller because of the building freeze. Another reason for the decline in the construction rate in large population centers is the soaring prices in the area, where prices rival those of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.