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Israel issues tenders for 2,500 E J’lem, West Bank homes, as Biden takes office

Move announced shortly before US president’s inauguration will allow for construction of 2,112 units in West Bank, 460 in East Jerusalem

An Israeli airforce Blackhawk helicopter carrying US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo hovers over Sha'ar Binyamin industrial park near the Psagot settlement in the West Bank, north of Jerusalem, on November 19, 2020. (Ahmad GHARABLI/AFP)
An Israeli airforce Blackhawk helicopter carrying US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo hovers over Sha'ar Binyamin industrial park near the Psagot settlement in the West Bank, north of Jerusalem, on November 19, 2020. (Ahmad GHARABLI/AFP)

Israel issued tenders for more than 2,500 new homes in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, a watchdog said Wednesday, hours before Joe Biden’s swearing-in as US president.

On Sunday, Israel advanced planning for 780 new settler homes in the West Bank ahead of a March general election in which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to face a fierce challenge from the right from pro-settler candidate Gideon Saar.

Peace Now said the government had now invited bidding on construction for a further 2,112 units in the West Bank and 460 in East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians hope to make the capital of a future state. Israel claims sovereignty throughout Jerusalem, including the eastern sector of the city that it captured from its Jordanian occupiers in the 1967 war.

The watchdog accused the government of a “mad scramble to promote as much settlement activity as possible until the last minutes before the change of the administration in Washington.”

“By doing so, Netanyahu is signaling to the incoming president that he has no intention of giving the new chapter in US-Israel relations even one day of grace, nor serious thought to how to plausibly resolve our conflict with the Palestinians,” Peace Now said in a statement.

Nabil Abu Rudeineh, a spokesman for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, said the Israeli move was equivalent to a “race to eliminate what remains of the two-state solution, while posing more and more obstacles to the new US administration.”

Neighboring Jordan also condemned the decision.

“The policy of colonization… is neither legitimate nor legal,” said foreign ministry spokesman Dhaifallah Ali al-Fayez.

“It violates international law and undermines the foundations of peace, as well as efforts to reach a two-state solution,” he said.

Netanyahu facing right-wing challenge

All Jewish settlements in the West Bank are regarded as illegal by much of the international community.

But the Trump administration, breaking with decades of US policy, declared in late 2019 that Washington no longer considered settlements in breach of international law.

Biden has indicated his administration will restore Washington’s pre-Trump policy of opposing settlement expansion.

But on Tuesday his nominee for secretary of state said the incoming administration would not reverse Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

“The only way to ensure Israel’s future as a Jewish, democratic state and to give the Palestinians a state to which they are entitled is through the so-called two-state solution,” Antony Blinken said.

Beyond the change in Washington, experts say Netanyahu also has domestic political reasons for pushing settlement expansion.

Electioneering is intensifying ahead of the March 23 vote, in which the country’s longest-serving premier faces a new challenge from Saar, a prominent pro-settler voice who split with Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party late last year.

Israel gained control of the West Bank as a result of the 1967 Six Day War and has increasingly expanded the size and number of its settlements there, particularly under Netanyahu’s leadership since 2009.

There are currently some 650,000 Jews living in East Jerusalem and the West Bank amid an estimated 3.1 million Palestinians.

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