As Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's plane landed in Washington Sunday, contractors were being given a tour of the northern Jordan Valley settlement Maskiot in the framework of a tender that was issued to build a new neighborhood there..
"The tender is part of the process to populate the community," Jordan Valley Regional Council Chairman David Elhayani told Ynet.
"This process takes a few months to complete. The timing is coincidental, and anyone who says otherwise is jeopardizing Israel's security-related interests. There is a consensus among the Zionist parties that the Jordan Valley must remain under Israel's control in any future (peace) agreement."
Peace Now Secretary-General Yariv Oppenheimer said the fact that the contractors' tour coincided with Netanyahu's trip to Washington was "an indication of the government's plan to expand isolated settlements.
"This sends a clear message to the US and the international community as a whole regarding the government's plan to expand settlement construction," he said.
Elhayani said in response "it's shocking to think that the leftists of Peace Now are doing everything, and I mean everything, to undermine Israel's security interests."
Established in 1982, Maskiot formerly housed a Nahal Brigade base and several years ago included a pre-conscription military academy for national-religious youth. In December 2006, then-Defense Minister Amir Peretz approved the decision to build 30 new homes in the religious community, where the evacuees from the settlement of Shirat Hayam in Gush Katif could be housed. Peretz later revoked his decision amid US pressure.
In July 2008 Defense Minister Ehud Barak authorized the settlement's repopulation with 50 families, some of them from the evacuated Jewish settlements in Gaza. Currently about 10 families reside in Maskiot, but many others are waiting for their lots to be released.
"The decision to populate Maskiot was approve by Barak; the residents of the Jordan Valley are law abiding citizens," Elhayani said. "I'm certain that the citizens of Israel would be pleased to learn that we are carrying on with the strengthening of the Jordan Valley, which is the country's security belt."
Yesha Council Chairman Danny Dayan told Ynet regarding the construction plans at Maskiot "Peace Now is sabotaging Netanyahu's mission to seek support against the Iranian nuclear program in Washington."
Knesset Member Ahmad Tibi (United Arab List-Ta'al) criticized the decision to hold a construction bid for a new neighborhood in the northern Jordan Valley settlement.
"The Israeli government is acting like a bull in a China shop by expanding settlements all across the West Bank," he said, adding that Monday's meeting between US President Barack Obama and Netanyahu "will be tested by the US' ability to compel Israel to halt all settlement construction."
Knesset Member Yohanan Plesner (Kadima) called the decision "foolish", saying it "would turn Israel into a bi-national state and deteriorate Israel's relations with the US."
MK Shlomo Molla, also of Kadima, said "the PM is slapping Obama in the face by expanding the settlement under the false pretense of natural growth.
"The PM and his associates would be better off evacuating settlements, launching negotiations and concentrating on the demographic problem," he said.