Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's approval Wednesday of 286 new housing units in the haredi settlement of Betar Illit marked the second time in less than three months that Shas has freed up a major haredi construction project in the West Bank. In March, Shas leader Eli Yishai took credit for the green light given to a new 750-unit project in the West Bank settlement of Givat Ze'ev. At the time, Yishai announced that further construction would be authorized in Betar Illit as well. Although construction is continuing in many settlements, the work is based on old permits. In the last year, the government has approved only a smattering of small-scale projects in the settlements. The largest of those construction projects was for 100 new homes in the Mevo Horon settlement, and that was a direct result of the voluntary evacuation of an outpost just outside the settlement. Now the two exclusively haredi projects, in Givat Ze'ev and Betar Illit, make up the bulk of new construction permits in West Bank settlements. Yishai's spokesman told The Jerusalem Post that Wednesday's announcement was a direct result of the Shas leader's lobbying efforts. "We said this would happen, and it did," Yishai's spokesman said. Betar Illit Mayor Meir Rubinstein also credited both Shas and United Torah Judaism for the announcement. In the past, the United States and the Palestinians have protested continued Israeli settlement construction, which they view as a violation of the road map and a major stumbling block to a peace agreement. But Israel has long claimed that it could build for natural growth reasons in settlement blocs like Givat Ze'ev and Betar Illit, which it believes would likely be retained by Israel in any future peace deal. Givat Ze'ev, which until now was a mostly secular settlement, is 4.9 kilometers over the the Green Line, and Betar Illit, which is exclusively haredi, is a mere .4 km. over the Green Line. Both settlements are just outside of Jerusalem. In announcing the new housing units for Betar Illit, the Housing and Construction Ministry said the construction would solve a housing problem that existed both in the haredi community and in Jerusalem. In particular, it would provide an affordable solution for young families who are being priced out of Jerusalem. The haredi community, located mostly in Modi'in Illit and Betar Illit, is the fastest growing population in the West Bank. While Rubinstein's office welcomed the news of the new homes, it noted that the project was only a portion of the 776 permits that it sought for this year. It was also working to prepare a 1,009-unit project. Rubinstein said these projects had already been approved by former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, and therefore there was no reason to refuse to permit them now. Dani Dayan, who heads the Council of Jewish Communities of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza and who has been fighting hard this year for construction permits for the West Bank settlements - most of which are not haredi - told the Post he had no response to the news at this time.