Israel to advance 1,800 additional settler homes

After announcing plans for 1,500 new West Bank homes on Wednesday, Israel adds more buildings to the agenda; sudden flurry of settlement activity a response to this week's swearing in of Fatah-Hamas unity government.

Construction in West Bank settlement of Efrat, April 29, 2014. (photo credit: TOVAH LAZAROFF)
Construction in West Bank settlement of Efrat, April 29, 2014.
(photo credit: TOVAH LAZAROFF)
Israel is set to advance plans for another 1,000 homes in West Bank settlements and to approve building for another 800, an Israeli official said.
The official spoke on Thursday in advance of next week’s meeting of the Higher Planning Council for Judea and Samaria which is expected to make decisions on the 1,800 units.
In addition the Ministry of Construction and Housing late Wednesday night published tenders for 1,500 new homes over the pre-1967 lines.
Israel initiated the sudden flurry of settlement activity in response to Monday’s Ramallah ceremony in which members of a united Fatah-Hamas government were sworn in.
The United States, European countries and the Palestinians have condemned the new building announcements.
But their objections have not deterred Israel from moving forward.
The Higher Planing Council for Judea and Samaria had intended to advance the building at an April meeting that was canceled at the last moment by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon.
The cancellation came precisely as Israelis and Palestinians attempted to extend the nine-month US led negotiating process that had begun at the end of July. Israel suspended the talks, when the Palestinian Authority announced its intention to unite its Fatah party with Hamas, in a new interim unity government.
The April meeting had been timed to match a release of Palestinian prisoners responsible for terror attacks.
Israel freed 78 such prisoners during the first six months of direct talks with the Palestinians, but it balked at freeing the last batch of 26 prisoners. It did not want to release them in climate in which talks were ending and Hamas was entering the Palestinian government.
An Israeli official in April told The Jerusalem Post that advancing or approving new housing over the pre-1967 lines would focus international attention away from the Fatah-Unity deal.
The official said in April that it was not considered wise to do this when Israel wanted to emphasize the point that placing a terrorist group like Hamas in the Palestinian government was the true stumbling bloc to peace.
But late Wednesday night, Israel changed its tune.
The Construction and Housing Ministry published tenders for 400 new homes in the Jewish east Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo. It also published tenders for units in the following West Bank settlements:  484 new homes for Beitar Illit, 223 such units for Efrat, 155 for Givat Ze’ev, 78 for Alfei Menashe, 76 for Ariel and 38 for Geva Binyamin,
Almost all these West Bank settlements are within the planned route of the security barrier and are communities that Israel expects to maintain during any final status agreement with the Palestinians.
Some 78% of the tenders were for three West Bank settlements located just outside Jerusalem and which strengthen Israel’s hold on the capital, these include Efrat, Beitar Illit and Givat Ze’ev.
Since July Israel has published 2,248 tenders for new homes in 11 out of the 125 authorized settlements in the West Bank.
This latest batch of tenders brings the total number of new homes authorized since July to 3,302.
But the surge in authorizations has not translated into a massive increase in new settler housing.
According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, there was a drop of 76.4% in the number of new West Bank housing starts in the first quarter of 2014 compared with that same period last year.
In the first quarter of 2013 there were 981 new housing starts in West Bank settlements, according to the CBS. That number dropped to 232 in the first three months of this year.