AP / March 24, 2023
JERUSALEM – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s far-right government authorized construction bids for over a thousand new homes in Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, a watchdog group reported Friday, despite an Israeli pledge to halt settlement construction as part of efforts to curb a deadly wave of violence in the territory.
The Israel Land Authority published the tenders earlier this week for the construction of 940 homes in the West Bank settlements of Efrat and Beitar Ilit, as well as 89 homes in the Gilo settlement, which lies over the 1967 line on the southern edge of the contested [?] capital of Jerusalem. The large settlement of Efrat sits deep in the West Bank, near the Palestinian city of Bethlehem.
Palestinians seek these lands, captured by Israel in the 1967 June War, for a future independent state alongside Israel — a longstanding international goal. The Palestinian Foreign Ministry assailed the move as a betrayal of Netanyahu’s vow to freeze settlement construction, showing “official disregard for American and international reactions.”
The anti-settlement Israeli group Peace Now publicized the construction bids on Friday.
“This is yet another harmful and unnecessary construction initiative,” the group said, accusing the Israeli government of “trampling on the possibility of a future political agreement, and on our relations with the U.S. and friendly countries.”
There was no immediate comment from Netanyahu’s office.
The new affront to the Palestinians came just a week after Israeli and Palestinian officials met in Egypt’s southern resort city of Sharm al-Sheikh in an effort to calm rising tensions ahead of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. After the meeting, Israel repeated a pledge made at a similar February summit in Aqaba, Jordan to temporarily freeze the approval of new settlement units in the West Bank.
The Palestinian Foreign Ministry criticized the tender approvals as “a blatant departure and deliberate sabotage of the understandings that were reached between the Palestinian and Israeli sides under American auspices.”
Last month, the Israeli government granted approval for over 7,000 new homes in Jewish settlements in the West Bank, including in four unauthorized outposts — despite a U.N. Security Council statement sharply criticizing Israeli settlement expansion and rising opposition from Israel’s allies, including the United States.
An Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief journalists, described the publication of tenders this week as procedural, saying, “All of the agreements settled during the recent joint summits in Jordan and Egypt are being respected fully.”
Israel’s government, the most right-wing and religiously conservative in its history, has said it aims to entrench Israeli military rule in the West Bank, boost settlement construction and erase the differences for Israelis between life in the settlements and within the country’s internationally recognized borders.
Netanyahu’s coalition includes ultranationalist Jewish settler leaders who live in the West Bank.
The international community, along with the Palestinians, considers settlement construction illegal or illegitimate. Over 700,000 Jewish settlers now live in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.
The settlement construction bids come against a background of heightened tensions with the Palestinians and a national crisis in Israel over a government plan to overhaul the judicial system, which critics fear will move Israel toward autocracy.
Since the start of 2023, at least 86 Palestinians, both militants and civilians, have been killed in Israeli raids throughout the West Bank — making it the most deadly start to the year in over two decades. At least 13 civilians and one police officer were killed during the same period in Palestinian attacks against Israelis.