Israel is planning on constructing some 48,000 new housing units in Israeli West Bank settlements, according to leaked transcripts involving government officials published by an Israeli daily Tuesday.
The new units, which do not count some 15,000 new homes planned for East Jerusalem, would make up nearly 1/6th of the 279,000 tenders for units across the country, according to Yedioth Ahronoth, which cited conversations between officials in the Housing and Finance ministries.
The report, which could not be independently verified, comes amid growing international pressure to cease construction in settlements and amid country-wide housing crisis that is compacted by rising real estate costs and a dearth of accommodation opportunities — particularly for first home buyers.
Officials at the Housing Ministry were unavailable for comment.
Although multiple tenders are planned for the four large settlement blocs that Israel says will remain under its control in the event of any negotiated final status agreement, thousands of units are also in the works for isolated settlements beyond the West Bank security fence.
Large and well established satellite communities surrounding Jerusalem such as Ma’aleh Adumim, Geva Binyamin and Bat Ayin are set receive 10,083, 3,600 and 6,000 additional housing units respectively, according to the report.
However far-flung communities located deep within the West Bank, such as Nahliel, Ma’aleh Amos and Ofarim — will also receive thousands of tenders altogether — in a move that may be perceived as giving the could shoulder to increasingly vehement international pressure to put the kibosh on settlement construction.
No official announcement on the future housing plans was released by the ministry. Housing plans usually undergo multiple stages before approval is given for construction workers to break ground.
23,095 housing units are slated for Jerusalem, including 15,521 in the eastern half of the city beyond the Green Line.
The Gush Etzion bloc southwest of the capital will receive considerable expansion with thousands of units proposed for Alon Shvut, Efrat, Beitar Illit and Gvaot.
The city of Ariel meanwhile, will receive 2,432 units and nearby Ofarim 780.
The report comes a day before the State Comptroller is set to issue a paper on government failings to address skyrocketing home prices and out-of-control demand, amid a tight electoral race in which the housing crisis has become a key political issue.
Israelis will head to the polls on March 17.
While Housing Minister Uri Ariel, from the nationalist Jewish Home party, has been a vocal proponent of settlement expansion, political voices on the left and center have called for the government to focus on building in Israel proper to address housing shortages.
A report released Monday by Israeli settlement watchdog Peace Now noted that over the course of 2014, the government published 4,485 residential tenders for East Jerusalem and the West Bank.
The number of new housing starts in Jewish settlements in the West Bank rose by 40 percent last year, the activist group said.
Some 68 percent of the new construction is in settlements that are outside the blocs Israel likely will keep in any future peace deal, Peace Now said in its report.
The group’s figures are higher than the estimates from Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, which according to Peace Now does not include illegal construction and relies on reports from local authorities.
3,100 residential units were constructed during this time, as well as 165 public buildings, such as kindergartens, educational institutions and synagogues, as well as 92 structures for industrial and agricultural use, the report stated.
The Israeli government as of Tuesday evening had not commented on the Peace Now report.
The international community considers settlement building illegal and announcements of building tenders in the West Bank and East Jerusalem are often met with round condemnations from Palestinians, European capitals and the US.
JTA contributed to this report