Roofs in Matan and Hableh
Israeli homes in the settlement of Matan. Behind them, the West Bank Palestinian village of Hableh. Photo by Avi Ohayon/GPO
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Israel's Housing Ministry published tenders for the construction of 1,285 new housing units in East Jerusalem and the West Bank city of Ariel on Tuesday, in what left-wing activists said was an attempt to avoid American criticism of the move by releasing the plans during U.S. Election Day.

In all, the ministry published seven tenders, for 607 housing units in the northeast Jerusalem neighborhood of Pisgat Ze'ev; 606 units in the Ramot neighborhood in north Jerusalem; and 72 units in Ariel's B section.

The Ariel tender was originally released in December 2011, but was retracted as a result of low buyer turnout. Sources in the left-wing NGO Peace Now indicated that the tender's failure was proof that entrepreneurs couldn't generate interest in the project.

Ariel Mayor Ron Nahman, however, rejected the claims, saying that the release of a second tender was necessary since the contractor who won the original offer withdrew from the project. “There's huge demand here, contractors are standing in line,” Nahman said.

In the past, the Obama Administration strongly objected to expansion of neighborhoods in East Jerusalem and in West Bank settlements. Sources on the political left said that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may have requested that the publication of the tenders be pushed forward, fearing that an Obama victory would trigger increased pressure against new Israeli construction.

Peace Now, which disclosed the publication of the tenders, said the act was “Netanyahu's real answer to Abu Mazen; after the Palestinian president yet again clearly reiterated he is obligated to the two-state solution, Netanyahu answered with the construction of thousands of new housing units in the settlements and East Jerusalem."

"It seems as though Netanyahu is not convinced that his pal Romney will win the U.S. election and has taken the cowardly step of publishing the tenders precisely on Election Day… in order to avoid public attention," the NGO added.

The Housing and Construction Ministry spokesman Ariel Rosenberg denied that the tenders were published on Tuesday in attempt to avoid U.S. criticism.