‘Trump effect’: New data reveals Israeli building boom in Judea and Samaria

Israel ramped up spending in Judea and Samaria following the election of President Donald Trump, according to official data obtained by The Associated Press.

By World Israel News and AP

According to official data obtained by The Associated Press, the “Trump effect” on Israeli construction in Judea and Samaria may be a real phenomenon.

While the new Israeli figures obtained in a freedom of information request do not prove a direct connection, they indicate a 39% increase in 2017 spending on roads, schools and public buildings across Judea and Samaria.

Infrastructure such as roads in Judea and Samaria is used by Israelis and Arabs living under Palestinian Authority rule alike.

Since Israel gained control of Judea and Samaria and eastern portions of Jerusalem from Jordan during 1967’s Six-Day War, over 700,000 Israelis have made their homes there.

During last month’s election, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to extend Israeli sovereignty over the area, and a report in the Israeli media this week claimed the U.S. would not stand in the way of this move.

The Palestinians object to Israelis living in Judea and Samaria, which they claim will be part of an autonomous nation they have failed to establish over the course of 70-plus years.

Since taking office, Trump has urged restraint with regard to expansion of Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria, but has refrained from the condemnations of its Republican and Democratic predecessors.

“The Trump administration is undoubtedly the most friendly American administration of all time,” said Oded Revivi, the chief foreign envoy of the Judea and Samaria (Yesha) council. “In contrast, the Obama years were extremely hard for Israel. Now we are making up for lost ground.”

Shift from Obama years

The government statistics, released by Israel’s Finance Ministry, showed Israeli spending in Judea and Samaria in 2017, Trump’s first year in office, rose to 1.65 billion shekels, or $459.8 million, from 1.19 billion shekels in 2016.

The 2017 figures were the highest in the 15 years of data provided by the Finance Ministry, though spending also climbed in 2016. At the time, President Barack Obama, a vocal critic of Israeli Yesha communities, was a lame duck, and relations with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were cool.

In contrast, the lowest year of Israeli spending was 2009, when both Netanyahu and Obama took office, when it was 760.7 million shekels. The data included only the first half of 2018, so full-year comparisons were not available.

The figures include only government spending, so construction and purchases of private homes are not included. Israel also does not include items like police, education, health and military spending, saying such services are provided to all Israelis regardless of where they live.

In addition, spending in eastern portions of Jerusalem was excluded, as these areas are part of Israel’s capital.

The figures include spending on public construction projects that Palestinians and Israelis both use, such as roads, shopping areas and industrial parks. The figures also include schools, social centers, synagogues, and development grants for local governments and mortgage subsidies.

The areas with the strongest growth in 2017 were in school construction, which jumped 68%, and road construction, which rose 54%.

Badly needed spending

Revivi, who is also mayor of the Efrat community near Jerusalem, said the spending was badly needed.

He said that school spending was legally required because of the fast-growing Israeli population. He also said that roads in Judea and Samaria have been in “dire condition” for years, and there is a drastic need for improvements.

Netivei Yisrael, the public company that oversees road construction, said it carries out its projects at the instruction of the Transportation Ministry.

In a statement, the company said it is “proud to lead a long line of projects throughout Israel, including Judea and Samaria, with the goal of improving safety for travelers and saving lives.”

After winning re-election last month, Netanyahu is in the process of forming a new coalition that also is expected to have close ties with the Yesha communities.

In a statement, the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem repeated the White House policy. “While the existence of settlements is not in itself an impediment to peace, further unrestrained settlement activity doesn’t help peace,” it said.

The Palestinian Authority cut off ties with the White House after Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December 2017 and subsequently moved the American Embassy there. U.S. cuts of hundreds of millions of dollars of aid for the Palestinians have further strained the atmosphere, and the Palestinians continue to refuse to stop paying stipends to terrorists and their families, incentivizing murder and other violent crimes.