Israel advances West Bank settlement building

Contractors have been invited to bid on the construction of new housing units for Jewish communities in Judea, Samaria and the Jordan Valley.

By Erin Viner

Separate tenders have been published by the Israel Land Authority (ILA) on its website for 1,248 new housing units in Beitar Illit, Efrat, Kiryat Arba, Ma’ale Efraim and Karnei Shomron; as well as 89 others in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo, considered a “settlement” by pro-Palestinian parties.

“All the tenders that were published are in line with the rules and have received the required permissions, including from the Defense Minister,” Israel’s Housing Ministry said. There has been no immediate comment from the Defense Ministry.

The expansion of settlements in the West Bank has been among the most contentious issues between Israel, the Palestinians and the international community for decades. It has continued despite repeated calls for construction to stop from allies including the United States.

The Palestinians demand an independent state in the West Bank and Gaza with east Jerusalem as its capital, territories Israel captured in the the 1967 Six Day War. They and their backers insist the expansion of the Jewish communities on land they seek for a state undermines their bid and that such construction is “illegal” under international law.

“By expanding settlements, Israel’s extremist government is trying to make impossible the establishment of an independent Palestinian state,” said Wasel Abu Yousef, member of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Executive Committee.

Israel strongly disputes any illegality of building Jewish homes, citing Biblical, historical and political ties to the territories, as well as security interests.

The issuing of the latest tenders has stirred further controversy over the outcome of United States-sponsored talks in February with Israeli, Egyptian, Jordanian and Palestinian officials, known as the Aqaba Summit; after which the State Department declared, “The Government of Israel and the Palestinian National Authority confirmed their joint readiness and commitment to immediately work to end unilateral measures for a period of 3-6 months. This includes an Israeli commitment to stop discussion of any new settlement units for 4 months and to stop authorization of any outposts for 6 months.”

Immediately denouncing that claim,  Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wrote on social, “Construction and order in Judea and Samaria will continue in accordance with the original planning and construction schedule, without any change. There is and will not be any freeze.

More than 3 million Palestinians live in the West Bank, excluding east Jerusalem.

According to a report by the United Nations Human Rights Committee (UNHRC), just under 700,000 settlers live in 279 settlements across the West Bank and east Jerusalem, up from 520,000 in 2012.

Prime Minister  Netanyahu’s nationalist religious coalition, which includes prominent ministers from the settler movement, has pressed ahead with settlement expansion plans since coming to office in January.

In February, the committee charged with overseeing settlement plans approved the promotion of more than 7,000 housing units, most deep inside the West Bank, according to Israel’s leftist Peace Now anti-settlement group that observed the hearings.

In March, the Knesset cleared the way for Israelis to return to four settlements in the West Bank by amending the 2005 Disengagement Law which ordered their evacuation.