Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu authorized a construction bid for 240 new housing units in the northeastern Jerusalem neighborhoods of Pisgat Ze'ev and Ramot, Ynet learned Thursday.
The future homes were included in a Construction and Housing Ministry tender which listed 3,500 housing units across Israel. The fact that 240 of the units are to be built in east Jerusalem was made as inconspicuous as possible.
Despite Netanyahu's statements to the contrary, similar bids were held back during the settlement freeze, mostly to prevent tensions with the United States and the Palestinian Authority.
Netanyahu also instructed the interior and housing ministers to inform him of any planned construction of sensitive political nature.
Once the West Bank settlement moratorium ended, Atias was quick to say that the decision's true test would be construction in east Jerusalem. The prime minister has been under great political pressure to grant such construction permits, but has resisted for the most part.
Though surprising, Thursday's decision – which comes in the midst of a settlement-prompted crisis in the peace talks – is meant to signal to right-wing elements that Netanyahu will not succumb to pressure to extend the settlement freeze.
Sources familiar with the decision told Ynet that "There is no settlement freeze in Jerusalem. The Prime Minister's Office is monitoring such tenders, to prevent him from being surprised by them when the timing is sensitive."
Meanwhile, Minister Atias said behind closed doors, that he believes that Washington will tolerate the tender and will not turn it into a full-blown crisis.
'Netanyahu's statements a fraud'
Jerusalem portfolio holder in Fatah Hatem Abdel Kader said Thursday that Israel's decision to go ahead with construction projects in east Jerusalem undermines the US' efforts to stop the peace talks from deadlocking and "hammers the final nail in the negotiation's coffin."
Abdel Kader added that the decision indicated that Netanyahu has chosen "his radical coalition" over trying to strike a peace deal.
The decision, he said, also explains why Israel has been reluctant to address the issue of border, as it is acting to form facts on the ground, away from the negotiating table.
"Some areas will remain under Israeli sovereignty when there is land swap, but Israel is trying to force the facts before this matter is settled, which only proves that all of Netanyahu's talk about agreeing to a two-month freeze for our recognition of the Jewish state is a fraud.
Reiterating a previous statement by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Abdel Kader said that the PA will never agree to recognize Israel as a Jewish state: "As far as the Palestinian law and norms go, that would constitute treason. It will not happen."
Ali Waked contributed to this report
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