The Housing and Construction Ministry issued tenders for some 200 new housing units in the West Bank on Wednesday, a day after a US columnist released comments allegedly made by US President Barack Obama in which the American leader harshly criticized Prime Minister Binyamin Netanayahu's settlement policies.
According to Channel 2, the tenders are for 84 new housing units in Kiryat Arba near Hebron, and for an additional 114 tenders in the West Bank settlement of Efrat.
Bloomberg columnist Jeffrey Goldberg on Tuesday quoted Obama as saying “Israel doesn’t know what its own best interests are,” in regard to Israeli plans to advance new settlement construction, including that in the controversial E1 corridor.
“With each new settlement announcement, in Obama’s view, Netanyahu is moving his country down a path toward near isolation,” Goldberg wrote.
Sources close to Netanyahu responded carefully, saying that the prime minister would continue to protect the country’s vital national security interests in the coming government that he would lead. The sources noted that Obama had said Israeli-US defense and security cooperation were at unprecedented levels, which was evident in US support for Israeli missile defense systems and diplomatic backing during Operation Pillar of Defense.
But Likud officials accused Obama of “gross interference” in the Israeli election and said the president was “taking revenge” against Netanyahu for his perceived intervention in the November US election on behalf of unsuccessful Republican challenger Mitt Romney. The officials said Obama had been swayed against Netanyahu by President Shimon Peres and former prime minister Ehud Olmert.
The publishing of tenders for new settlement units on Wednesday drew condemnation from Netanyahu's political opponents.
The Tzipi Livni Party blasted the plans, saying "Netanyahu is destroying Israel's international relations and is sacrificing national interests for political considerations right before an election."
"The Netanyahu government's order of priorities is set by its 'natural partners,' the extreme Right and haredim, not the Zionist, sane majority in Israel," the party added.
Livni's party stated that Netanyahu's policies lead to a double loss by isolating Israel and weakening settlement blocs by building outside of them.
Similarly, Labor leader Shelly Yacimovich criticized Netanyahu for ignoring Obama's advice and isolating Israel.
"Instead of listening to criticism, Netanyahu is behaving irresponsibly and provocatively a week before the election," she stated. "The battle against [Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali] Bennett is more important to Netanyahu than facing Obama. Netanyahu is desperately trying to distract from his failures, which were revealed again this week when we saw he has no control over Israel's economy, and is trying to work in the diplomatic field, where he is also a failure."
According to Yesh Atid, Netanyahu is proving once again that he prefers settlers over the middle class.
"Instead of investing in housing, education and lowering the cost of living, the prime minister chooses, a moment before the election, to invest in settlements and is further isolating Israel," the party stated. "In the competition between him and Bennett for votes, Netanyahu chose to wink at the extreme right instead of protecting national, social and economic interests."
Meretz leader Zehava Gal-On said of the new settlement plans that
Netanyahu had responded to the "American warning" on settlements "with
Chutzpa that will end up costing us dearly."
Strong Israel leaders Arieh Eldad and Michael Ben-Ari said that "it's too bad there aren't elections twice a week," "If Netanyahu would have built in his four years in the government the way he's promising before the election, there wouldn't be a housing crisis in Israel and the attempts to establish a Palestinian state would be considered science fiction."
Eldad and Ben-Ari accused Netanyahu of trying to "steal" settler's votes, while saying he is committed to establishing a Palestinian state in Judea and Samaria. The two expressed hope that those faithful to the Land of Israel know not to give their votes to someone who plans to uproot them from their homes.
Gil Hoffman and Herb Keinon contributed to this report.