illegal Arab construction
illegal Arab constructionIsrael news photo: Dov Barak

Despite the end of the building freeze in Judea and Samaria, construction is still almost at a standstill – in Jewish towns and cities, that is. But the construction sector in PA controlled areas of Judea and Samaria is booming, with a 26% rise in building starts this year, compared to 2007, the PA announced this week.

In a news conference to commemorate “Arab Housing Day,” PA officials said that there were now nearly 900,000 housing units in PA-controlled areas of Judea and Samaria. About half of PA Arabs live in private homes and villas, while the other half live in apartments.  In 2010, the PA built a total of 33,922 housing units, compared to a total of 33,128 units built in all of Israel. Population density per room in Judea and Samaria is 1.6 residents per room, and  in Gaza 1.8 residents per room.

The mortgage market in the PA is very underdeveloped, the officials said, and most families seeking to build a house borrow money from relatives, not banks. As a result, nearly 85% of PA Arabs own their homes, while the rest rent. The average PA rental apartment is 3.6 rooms, the monthly rent for which averages about $216 in Judea and Samaria, and $154 in Gaza.

The officials said that there was a great demand for housing in PA-controlled areas, and that there was a deficit of some 70,000 housing units for “natural expansion” of the population by birth and immigration. The PA has meanwhile demanded that Israel cut out all building in Judea and Samaria, including that needed for natural expansion of the Jewish population there.

While there is no doubt that the pace of construction in PA-controlled areas was rapid, many Israelis have questioned the purpose of the construction. “When you ride down the road and see the outskirts of some of these cities and villages, like Kalkilyeh, you see a lot of half built structures that seem abandoned by their owners,” said one resident of Samaria. “It's as if they started out with the idea of building a beautiful home and had to stop for some reason, like lack of money.”

One theory, the resident said, was that the PA was aggressively building structures just for the sake of claiming land, putting up half-finished structures that nobody plans on living in just to “reserve” land and ensure that it remains under PA control in the event of a settlement with Israel. Israel has often complained that the PA allows willy-nilly construction with little or no planning, a situation that negatively impacts the environment of the Middle East, as buildings are constructed without proper sanitation, with Arab waste polluting the country's lakes, streams, and forests.