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Unnatural growth

By Nadav Shragai, Ha'aretz May 1, 2001

Zalman Shoval, who was Israel's ambassador to Washington in the early '90s, suggested yesterday on Israel Radio that the compromise formula on settlements to be used was the one worked out by then-prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and then-president George Bush.Indeed, toward the end of 1992, before handing over the keys to Bill Clinton, George Bush signed the loan guarantees, and Rabin promised that Israel would not establish any more settlements.

The formula agreed upon was that Israel's settlement efforts would be limited to expanding the existing colonies, according to their natural growth.

A review of the situation in the territories explains why Likud politicians like Shoval are happy to adopt the Rabin formula, and why the Palestinians break out in a rash every time they hear the expression "natural growth."

Natural growth (births minus deaths, not counting immigration) in the settlements is 3.4 percent a year, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics, compared to 1.57 percent for all of Israel. In 1998, the 15-20 year olds numbered some 14,000. On average, that means, some 3,000 adult-age residents are added to the territories each year.

According to a survey done by the Judea and Samaria College, two-thirds of those new adults in the settlements choose to make their home in the territories. On the generous assumption that none marry another resident of the territories, 2,000 new apartments would be amply adequate to meet the needs of natural growth - and there would be change left over.

According to Peace Now's latest survey, no more than 9,300 new apartments are needed in the territories by 2004.

According to official statistics, full compliance with the Rabin-Bush formula would mean that Israel announces a total freeze - plus demolishes 500 apartments. Right now, there are 9,844 new (and empty) apartments either finished, or under construction.

How did we reach such a situation?

Rabin stuck to the formula. The number of housing starts dropped from 6,210 in 1992 to 980 in 1993.

The problem began in 1995, with 2,520 housing starts, and reached a peak in 1999. Ehud Barak inherited a plan from Benjamin Netanyahu for 11,000 new apartments.

Barak authorized the plan - and last year there were 2,511 new housing starts. It's worth noting that 60 percent of the construction in the territories is state-funded, compared to 25 percent inside the Green Line.

Thus the Israelis made a mockery of the American deal, and the Americans stayed silent.

Their consular representatives in Jerusalem consistently reported back to Washington about each new settlement, which popped up in the territories as "expanding existing neighborhoods."

Washington stayed silent, hoping that, in any case, a peace deal was almost at hand that would once-and-for-all clarify the status of all the settlements.

And now Shimon Peres expects the Palestinians to cease the violence in exchange for another Israeli promise to make do with "construction according the natural growth," under American supervision.

'Natural growth' often means a more than natural increase

By Nadav Shragai

Since the signing of the Oslo agreements, the phrase "natural growth of the settlements" gave all Israeli governments room to maneuver regarding the annual number of building starts across the Green Line, in accordance with a given policy and time period.

Unlike term "natural increase," which is an accepted statistical term involving the number of births minus the number of deaths - the natural increase in the Jewish population of Judea, Samaria and Gaza is 3.4 percent - the term "natural growth" is far more flexible. According to at least one interpretation, it may also include the market demands for housing in a given area.

Yitzhak Rabin used this formulation to build thousands of housing units in the Greater Jerusalem area: Ma'aleh Adumim, Beitar Ilit, Givat Ze'ev and Gush Etzion. Rabin wanted to include the Greater Jerusalem area in the permanent borders of the State of Israel and worked at increasing the population there. Benjamin Netanyahu also used the flexibility of the term to increase building starts by 100 percent in 1998, to 4,210, the highest in recent years, with the exception of Sharon's stint in the housing ministry (1991-1992), when some 14,000 housing units were built in Judea, Samaria and Gaza. Under the sweeping term "natural growth," many new neighborhoods were built in existing neighborhoods along with dozens of outposts.

Barak, too, found the "natural growth" concept convenient, especially when he still needed the right-wing National Religious Party in his coalition. In 2000, Barak started the construction of some 2,500 housing units in Judea, Samaria and Gaza, as in the previous year, credited to Netanyahu. There are no figures yet for Sharon, but two tenders already published promise the construction of 712 housing units in Ma'aleh Ephraim and Ma'aleh Adumim.

During Barak's term as prime minister, tenders for the construction of 3,575 housing units were published, with 2,600 in the Greater Jerusalem area.

There has been an annual growth in construction of about 8 percent in Judea, Samaria and Gaza, recently dropping to 7 percent, double the natural increase in population.

According to Peace Now, the construction in the settlements can be frozen for at least four years, because there are enough units available to meet the demands of natural increase along with the growth needs stemming from market demands. These demands have dropped sharply since the beginning of the current Intifada, a fact not denied by the Yesha Council (the Council for Jewish Settlements in Judea, Samaria and Gaza).

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