Amid a backdrop of increasingly acrimonious peace negotiations, the Construction and Housing Ministry on Tuesday approved a tender for 708 homes in Jerusalem’s southern Gilo neighborhood, located beyond the Green Line.

According to Hagit Ofran, director of the Settlement Watch Project for Peace Now, the move is a blatant attempt to derail talks with the Palestinian Authority.

“The Housing Ministry is trying to forcefully undermine the peace process... and [US Secretary of State] John Kerry’s efforts to promote it,” she told AFP.

The timing of the announcement coincides with growing speculation that the US will agree to release Jonathan Pollard from prison in return for the release of 400 more Palestinian prisoners and a partial construction freeze in Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem.

Aviv Tatarsky, a researcher at Ir Amim (City of Nations), an NGO dedicated to the establishment of an egalitarian Jerusalem, patently denounced the development as a deception by the [Housing Ministry].

“The Ministry of Construction and Housing claims that this is an old tender published six months ago that was reissued for technical reasons,” he said. “In reality, what they did not do is publish the tenders with minimum fees, making the tender more lucrative.”

Moreover, Tatarsky echoed Ofran’s contention that the announcement is meant to further exacerbate already fraught US-brokered peace negotiations.

“By publishing these tenders around the time John Kerry was here sends a very clear message to both Americans and Palestinians regarding Israel’s objectives,” he said.

Tatarsky added that he believes the construction is intended to block the continuity of a Palestinian state.

“The units are part of over 4,500 units approved since 2012, and if realized, tenders like this would cut off Bethlehem from east Jerusalem,” he said.

“It’s not just building beyond the Green Line, this kind of construction dramatically changes the facts on the ground.”

An official for the ministry denied that the approval is politically motivated.

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