The Construction and Housing Ministry on Wednesday announced tenders for 198 housing units for Jews in the West Bank, hours after the left-wing NGO Peace Now reported that 2012 was a record year for settlement construction.
The new tenders consist of two projects: 84 units in Kiryat Arba, near Hebron, and 114 in Efrat, near the Gush Etzion settlement bloc south of Jerusalem.
Politicians on the center-left were quick to denounce the plan.
The leader of the Hatnua party, former foreign minister Tzipi Livni, accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of destroying “Israel’s international relations and sacrificing national interests because of politics on the eve of elections.”
Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party cited budgetary concerns in its criticism of the move to build new housing units.
“Netanyahu once again proves that he favors the settlers over the debilitated middle class,” the party said in a statement. “Instead of investing in housing, education and the battle against the high cost of living, the prime minister chose, just before the elections, to invest in the settlements, thus deepening Israel’s international isolation.”
The prime minister’s choice to advance the projects was “a wink to the far-right” mean to circumvent ascendant rival Naftali Bennett and his Jewish Home party.
Meretz head Zahava Gal-on recalled Israel’s burgeoning public debt.
“The astronomical deficit doesn’t bother the Housing Ministry, which continues with its building festival in the territories,” she said. “If the same government remains in power, the problem of high housing costs won’t be resolved.”
The announcement came a day after US President Barack Obama was quoted as saying that Israel’s approach to peacemaking, and its move to approve thousands of new units in the West Bank, showed that the country “doesn’t know what its best interests are.”
A Peace Now report released Wednesday said there were 6,000 new units approved, and over 1,400 new construction projects started, in the West Bank during 2012. The report noted that many of the newly approved units were designated for isolated settlements that Israel presumably would not seek to keep in a future peace agreement with the Palestinians.
The announcement of new tenders also comes amid a tense, ongoing conflict between police and Palestinian protesters in the bitterly contested E1 corridor, an area east of Jerusalem slated for future construction and also mentioned in the Peace Now report.
Over the weekend, Palestinian protesters who erected a tent city to protest the construction plans in E1 were removed by police, and on Tuesday, hundreds of activists marched back to the site, which they call Bab a-Shams, and attempted to rekindle the protest. Police dispersed the demonstrators.