Despite the impression that Trump gave Netanyahu ‘carte blanche,’ construction in Judea and Samaria hasn’t returned to previous high numbers.
By Paul Shindman, World Israel News
A Samaria-based think tank that specializes in population issues rejected a news report alleging the settlement population in Judea and Samaria surged under the Trump administration, telling World Israel News on Thursday that the population growth was actually higher before Trump took office.
Baruch Gordon, director of the organization West Bank Jewish Population Stats, said a report published earlier this week by the Associated Press claiming “settler population surged during Trump era” was misleading because in reality the population growth rate decreased as housing construction slowed.
“Over the last eight years, the growth rate of the West Bank Jewish Population has steadily decreased,” Gordon said, noting that the percentage growth rate was actually higher than before Trump came into office.
Central Bureau of Statistics data released earlier this month showed Israel’s population grew by 1.7% in 2020, but last year the Jewish population of Judea and Samaria, aka West Bank, increased by 2.6%, and AP deduced their “surge” from those numbers, Gordon said, explaining that the population growth rate in the settlement areas had been over 4% before 2016.
“The assumption was that Trump gave an open carte blanche to do whatever we wanted, but you see there was much less growth in Trump’s era than in Obama’s era, so the numbers came out opposite,” Gordon said in a phone interview with World Israel News. “But since the numbers were higher than in the rest of Israel, the AP report used that to try and frame it as a settlement issue.”
Gordon attributed the slowing of the growth rate to the slow pace of housing construction, pointing out that over the past four years Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had only approved a limited amount of new housing starts in Judea and Samaria, well below the demand.
Noting that the incoming Biden administration was facing a new situation, Gordon said the changes in reality would have to be part of U.S. foreign policy.
“They are inheriting an improved Middle East, where the old stereotypes that ‘there is an Arab boycott of Israel – the Arabs will not engage with Israel’ have been erased,” Gordon said. “Now you have four Arab countries that have officially signed peace treaties with Israel in defiance of the Palestinian Authority.”
“Biden is coming into a situation where Arab countries are sticking it to the Palestinian Authority, saying, ‘We have other interests that are more important than the plight of the Palestinian people,'” Gordon said, adding that the Arab position now is that “Israel is a major force here, and we have a common Iranian enemy. That is what is driving our policy towards Israel, not the Palestinian people.”
“Biden has to recognize that he should not immediately shift back to the policies that Obama had in place and were applicable four and eight years ago, but rather assess and analyze the actual realities of relations between Israel and its Arab neighbors and recognize that the Palestinians have less standing today,” he said.
Gordon said the population growth in Judea and Samaria over the next four years had less to do with the Biden White House than with Israel’s upcoming election.
“It’s all dependent on who the next prime minister is and who the next housing minister is,” Gordon said, adding that Netanyahu’s history of imposing freezes when pressured by the Americans “doesn’t bode well for serious housing construction.”