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House price boom in illegal West Bank settlements

April 25, 2018 at 2:33 pm

A general view of an Israeli settlement in Nablus, West Bank [Wagdi Eshtayah/Apaimages]

House prices in illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank are booming, signalling the entrenched belief amongst Israelis that they are de-facto permanent, the Financial Times reported today.

The price of an average four-bedroom villa in larger settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory has risen by 60 per cent in the past ten years, faster than property prices in many of Israel’s major cities. The government has contributed to the recent boom by strengthening facilities around settlements, including the construction of major roads and schools and providing tax breaks for residents.

Despite all construction in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem considered illegal under international law, settlers say that their presence is becoming increasingly normalised in Israel, particularly in the aftermath of US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The new US embassy will also be built in the occupied eastern half of the city.

US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, whose daughter recently settled in Israel, has frequently promised settlers that they will not be forced to leave their homes, even requesting the US government cease using the term “occupied territories” when referring to the West Bank.

READ: Israel to demolish nine Arab homes in Umm Al-Hiran

“The majority [of Israelis] understand that Efrat is here to stay,” real estate director Yaniv Gabbay says, referring to a popular settlement close to occupied Jerusalem and Hebron. “They don’t ask how international law views Efrat, they ask how does the state of Israel view Efrat, and how their friends and families view Efrat.”

Some 400,000 Israeli settlers live in the West Bank, a number that has been rapidly growing in recent years alongside housing construction. The government has approved the building of hundreds of new settler homes for this year, which could amount to 1,285.

Last year, the first year of Trump’s presidency, construction surged by 17 per cent, amounting to some 2,783 units, the majority of which – 78 per cent – would likely have to be evacuated if a Palestinian state was established.

Settlers are increasingly referring to their outposts as suburbs of Jerusalem, in a bid to legitimise their presence. The sheer size of the settlements is also thought to be an advantage: “There is no way this thing is moving — this place is huge,” American settler Dan Leubitz said.

READ: Israel settlers attack Palestinian students in Hebron

Despite the price rise, settlement housing remains cheaper than in the city and has proved attractive for first-time Israeli buyers and young families.

The Israeli government has also made an effort to legalise unauthorised settler outposts, last month revealing Amichai, the first brand new settlement in two decades built on private Palestinian land. The outpost of Havat Gilad was also legalised in February in the aftermath of a Palestinian resistance attack on a settler leader, as a form of collective punishment.

The UN has repeatedly condemned the building of Israeli settlements, deeming them a major obstacle to the peace process and a violation of the rights of Palestinian land owners, who often have their land seized. Such calls have been ignored by Israel.