The Housing and Construction Ministry published tenders for the construction of 164 new units in the West Bank settlements of Ariel, Alfei Menashe and Karnei Shomron on Thursday.
The announcement came a day after United States President George W. Bush reaffirmed his commitment to a two-state solution when he met with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas in New York. The US and the Palestinians said they see settlement construction in the West Bank as a stumbling bloc to that vision.
The Prime Minister's Office had no comment with respect to the housing tenders, which according to the Housing and Construction Ministry fall within the guidelines of Israeli law.
The left-wing activist group Peace Now, which works to combat Israeli construction in the West Bank, attacked the move, stating it was against international agreements worked out with the United States.
"The Olmert government is acting according to right-wing policies; instead of dismantling outposts and freezing construction in the settlements, the government is constructing further units and plans to authorize dozens of illegal outposts," said Peace Now spokesman Yariv Oppenheimer.
"All these actions are in contradiction to the Israeli commitment to the Road Map and the commitment of the Labor and Kadima parties to their voters," Oppenheimer charged.
When asked about the tenders, an official at the US Embassy told The Jerusalem Post that Israel "has obligations under the Road Map, among those being dismantling illegal settlement outposts and ceasing settlement expansion."
While not saying whether the US has brought this issue up with the Israeli government, he said "when issues arise that we consider problematic, we raise them through diplomatic channels with the government." The official said the US doesn't want to see anything done that would "prejudge or prejudice" future negotiations with the Palestinians.
In speaking with reporters in New York following the meeting between Bush and Abbas, Deputy National Security Adviser Elliot Abrams said "we are concerned about any expansion of settlements that has any impact on the life and interest of Palestinians living near those settlements."
Bush continues to support a withdrawal of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, said Abrams. The US was aware that "several of the settlements west of the fence are expanding, with additional housing starting in them," said Abrams. He added that, "I believe the US embassy may have sought further details to what exactly was announced."
According to the Housing and Construction Ministry, some 800 housing tenders in the West Bank were published in 2006. In 2005, some 1,500 housing tenders were published for the West Bank.
Separately, leaders of the Gaza evacuees sent a letter to Ra'anan Dinur, director-general of the Prime Minister's Office, expressing their concern that the government has failed to move on construction of the permanent homes promised them.
At this rate, they fear the homes will not be ready as promised within the two-year period following the withdrawal from Gaza in August of 2005.
To date, most evacuees live in temporary homes provided at the government's expense.
A spokesman for the Housing and Construction Ministry said the Disengagement Authority is handling the construction of new homes for the settlers. The Disengagement Authority spokesman is on vacation and no response could be obtained from his office.
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