Settlers are building homes in the West Bank at almost twice the pace that they are being constructed inside Israel, anti-settlement watchdog Peace Now said on Wednesday.
The group said analysis of aerial photographs and field visits to settlements in the West Bank showed a vast disparity between construction inside Israel and in the settlements since the end of a freeze on building there.
“Whereas in Israel the pace of construction… was one housing unit for every 235 residents, in the settlements the pace of construction was a unit for every 123 residents,” it said in a report.
Peace Now calculated the rate by using Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics data on housing starts and population, dividing the number of new homes by the number of residents in the West Bank settlements and Israel respectively.
The group said construction had started on some 2,598 new housing units in West Bank settlements in the period between October 2010, when a 10-month freeze on Jewish construction in the West Bank ended, and July 2011.
In all, during the past 10 months, work was continuing on 3,700 units in West Bank settlements, including buildings that were started before the settlement freeze.
Some 2,149 homes were completed in the October 2010-July 2011 period, the group said.
The report comes as Israelis protest the cost of living in the Jewish state and in particular the high cost of housing.
Left-wing activists accuse the government of favouring the settlements over the rest of Israel, subsidising and encouraging construction there at the expense of the rest of the Jewish state.
The international community considers all settlements built in the occupied West Bank, including annexed Arab east Jerusalem, to be illegal and the issue of settlement construction has loomed large over Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
Israel declined to renew its 10-month partial freeze on settlement construction when it expired at the end of September 2010, shortly after Washington had relaunched direct talks between the two sides.
And the Palestinians say they will not hold negotiations while Israel builds on land they want for their future state.