The Housing Ministry released two government tenders for the construction of 198 new homes in the West Bank on Wednesday, less than a week before the national elections.
The announcement invited developers to bid on two projects seeking to add 114 housing units to the Efrat settlement and 84 units to Kiryat Arba.
The tenders were issued on the backdrop of reports citing US President Barack Obama
acerbically criticizing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
for announcing plans to build thousands of new homes in the disputed E1 area of the West Bank in November.
Obama purportedly said in private conversations that "Israel
doesn’t know what its own best interests are," adding that with each new settlement announcement, Netanyahu is moving Israel down a path toward near-total isolation.
Construction in Tkoa settlement (Photo: Gil Yohanan)
According to a report released by Peace Now
on Wednesday, a record number of construction projects were launched or approved for Jewish settlements in the West Bank in 2012.
The left-wing watchdog group said developers began working on over 1,400 housing units beyond the Green Line
while the government approved plans for over 6,000 new housing units for the region last year.
With the new set of construction tenders released Wednesday, settlement growth showed no indication of slowing down.
The towns of Har Brakha, Kedumim, Alei Zahav and Tkoa were among the settlements that received the bulk of the new homes.
Despite the global outcry and Palestinian condemnation, most of the new construction projects that were green lit last year were designated for the E1 area, where over 3,000 new housing units are to be built.
Peace Now asserted that nearly 40% of construction starts during Netanyahu's
term were in settlements deep in the West Bank, compared to 20% under his predecessor.
It said the prime minister approved large projects in particularly problematic areas, showing intent to make a Palestinian state impossible to create.
"This report makes it clear why this government is good for the settlers but is bad for Israel,"
the group said after the report's release.
Issuing a tongue-in-cheek response, the Yesha Council, which represents local Jewish authorities in the West Bank, lauded Peace Now's "venture to document settlement growth."
"We hope that in the next years the construction will be many times greater," the council said. "Peace Now has a special place in our hearts because the petitions that it filed with the High Court along with other leftists organizations have helped promote zoning for neighborhoods and towns across Judea and Samaria."