Obama-era freeze cited as Jewish growth in Judea and Samaria slows

Obama-era building freeze and government’s limited building plans in Judea and Samaria cited as main factors in population growth slowdown. 

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

The population in Judea and Samaria grew only 3 percent in 2018, according to statistics published by the Yesha Council and reported by Israel Hayom on Tuesday. It’s the 10th straight year of decline in growth, although it still beats the average rate of population expansion in the rest of the country, which stands at roughly 2 percent.

“We are pleased to see that the number of residents in the area is growing, but in recent years there has been insufficient construction throughout the settlements,” said Yesha Council Chairman Hananel Dorni.

“The relatively modest construction is a result of the freeze for eight years, and currently only limited [building] plans are being approved,” he noted.

The eight-year freeze Dorni referred to was a concession to President Barack Obama, when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed to his demand for a halt to building in Judea and Samaria.

But even at that time there was more growth than there is now, despite the Trump administration studiously ignoring the issue since entering office in 2017, not taking Israel to task when it announces building plans, as was the case during the Obama era.

In 2017, the growth stood at 3.4 percent, down from 3.9 percent in 2016.

The average age in the region is also significantly lower than the national average – 45 percent of the residents are under age 17, versus 27 percent everywhere else, said the report.

This also contributes to the critical need for homes, as it is not only an issue of families wanting to move in from other parts of the country. The youth marry and want to continue living where they grew up, contributing to the natural growth of their villages, but they are prevented from doing so by government foot-dragging in issuing building authorizations.

Dorni called the Council’s figures “a call for direction for the next government” to remove the obstacles to building in Judea, Samaria and the Jordan Valley, adding the point that by increasing the supply of apartments in the country, housing prices will drop.

The year before Obama came into office, 2008, was the banner period in population growth in the region, when it leaped 5.6 percent and officials claimed that at that rate there would be half a million residents there in just a few years. As a result of the slowdown, however, the current number is 448,672.