Better late than never. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Housing and Construction Minister Uri Ariel should be commended for finally putting an end to the unofficial settlement freeze that has been in place for months now. On Sunday they green-lighted tenders for 793 apartments in east Jerusalem neighborhoods.
New apartments are a scarce commodity in Jerusalem. To get a sense of how hard it is to find an apartment in Jerusalem and to appreciate just how vital this new decision is, consider the following two facts: first, only 1,200 housing units were built in Jerusalem in 2012, and only 43 were built in neighborhoods that were beyond the Green Line [in what is commonly known as east Jerusalem], where 200,000 residents, 42% of the city, lives; second, over the past several years the average construction rate in the city was 1,000 to 1,500 housing units per year, which doesn't even come close to meeting the annual demand of 4,500 units.
This accumulating multi-year deficit has contributed to the negative net migration rate. Each year the city's Jewish population shrinks by about 18,000 inhabitants. This is largely a consequence of the shortage in available dwellings. As a result, the city's Jewish majority keeps going down.
Let's hope that Sunday's decision, which is a drop in the bucket in the municipal housing market, is the beginning of a trend. There are many more tenders in the Housing and Construction Ministry's pipeline. Thousands of new housing units are awaiting construction. The ministry also hopes it would be able to finally build in the controversial area that lies in between Jerusalem and Ma'aleh Adumim -- known as Area E1 -- once the zoning permits are issued. The plan has made headlines for quite some time now, but no progress has been made. In fact, the paperwork is not done yet.
Netanyahu knows full-well that the Palestinians will not serve Jerusalem on a golden platter during negotiations; those who would like to see a continued Israeli presence in a united Jerusalem should endorse massive construction efforts.
The U.S. gave its unofficial blessing to the announcement on Sunday. Granted, the U.S. will issue an official condemnation, like it always does, but behind the scenes, the Obama administration understands Israel's need to offset the scandalous decision to release deadly terrorists for the sake of renewing talks.
Truth be told, these two issues should not be inter-related. Down the road Israel will find itself at loggerheads with the rest of the world when it decides to build in Jerusalem; it will have to contend with sanctions and condemnations and its popularity will drop further. But since we are talking about Jerusalem here -- the ultimate manifestation of our collective national, religious and historical identity -- this is a worthwhile endeavor.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and his cohorts in the PA will welcome the first batch of terrorists this week. The inmates will feel right at home, since the troubling incitement against Israel within Palestinian-held territory has continued unabated while they were in prison. Moreover, the talks have continued as if there is no incitement. If you want to get a sense of the hatred that is brewing there, it would suffice to visit Palestinian Media Watch, a website that monitors such activity. The incitement and the delegitimization of Israel as a Jewish state is on full display there; even a quick glance would suffice. The release of terrorists without first having the Palestinians cease this activity just adds insult to injury.