In 1st in Biden era, Israel advances construction of over 1,300 settlement homes

Announcement comes amid reports 3,000 settler homes will be okayed this week in the West Bank alongside 1,300 Palestinian homes; UN, Jordan, PA, Meretz party condemn decision

Palestinian laborers work at the construction site of a new housing project in the Israeli settlement of Ariel near the West Bank city of Nablus on January 25, 2017. (AFP Photo/Jack Guez)
Palestinian laborers work at the construction site of a new housing project in the Israeli settlement of Ariel near the West Bank city of Nablus on January 25, 2017. (AFP Photo/Jack Guez)

More than 1,300 new homes are set to be built in West Bank settlements, the Construction and Housing Ministry announced in a statement on Sunday.

“Tenders for 1,355 homes in Judea and Samaria have been published,” a ministry statement said, using the West Bank’s biblical name. The homes are slated to be build in seven settlements, including 729 in Ariel, 346 in Beit El, 102 in Elkana and 96 in Adam. The announcement is the first of its kind since US President Joe Biden — who has voiced his opposition to settlement expansion — took office in January.

The publication of marketing tenders by the Housing Ministry is a bureaucratic step that projects in larger settlements are required to go through even after receiving “final validation” approval for construction by the Defense Ministry.

“Just as we promised, we are now following through,” said Construction and Housing Minister Ze’ev Elkin on Sunday. “Strengthening and widening the settlements in Judea and Samaria is a necessary and very important part of the Zionist enterprise.” Elkin said he welcomed moving forward with the construction “after a long period of stagnation in building in Judea and Samaria.”

Hebrew media outlets reported last week that more than 3,000 new settlement homes are expected to be advanced this week alongside some 1,300 Palestinian homes in the West Bank’s Area C. The plans for that construction were slated for approval in August, but were delayed.

Media reports have indicated that Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is facing pressure from Biden — whom he met in late August at the White House — to restrict settlement building. Bennett, leader of the right-wing Yamina party, is a longtime proponent of settlement expansion and an outspoken opponent of the establishment of a Palestinian state.

US President Joe Biden meets with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, on August 27, 2021. (Nicholas Kamm/AFP)

On Friday, US State Department spokesman Ned Price said the US was “concerned” about reports of new settlement housing plans. He called on Israel and the Palestinians to “refrain from unilateral steps that exacerbate tension and undercut efforts to advance a negotiated two-state solution” to the conflict.

In response to Elkin’s announcement on Sunday, Meretz MK Mossi Raz tweeted his displeasure with the Bennett-led government — of which he is a member.

“The Yamina government is disregarding Meretz,” wrote Raz. “It’s heading 10 degrees more to the right than the last government. Building in settlements outside of Israel harms Israel.”

The narrow governing coalition must pass a 2021 budget in the next few weeks, and Bennett and other ministers have warned against rocking the boat in the run-up to that vote. If the much-delayed budget does not pass by the November 14 deadline, the coalition will automatically dissolve, triggering new elections.

Construction work is seen in the West Bank settlement of Yakir, on June 11, 2020. (Sraya Diamant/Flash90)

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh, speaking at a weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday, called on world nations, and especially the US, to “confront” Israel over the “aggression” that settlement construction poses for the Palestinian people.

The UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, Tor Wennesland, said he was “deeply concerned” by continued Israeli settlement construction. “I reiterate that all settlements are illegal under international law, remain a substantial obstacle to peace, and must cease immediately,” he said in a statement.

Jordanian Foreign Ministry spokesman Haitham Abu Al-Ful blasted settlement construction and the general “confiscation” of Palestinian land as “illegitimate.” He also condemned the announcement as “a violation of international law.”

Separately on Sunday, Elkin announced his ministry’s plan to double the number of homes in the Jordan Valley, in order to reach 3,000 families living in the area by 2026. Elkin said the ministry plans to invest NIS 224 million ($70 million) to build 1,500 new homes in 21 settlements in the area. Those homes have yet to be approved by the relevant authorities.

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