U.S. Says Israeli Settlement Housing Tenders Will 'Inflame Tensions'

Publication of tenders for 450 new housing units over the Green Line will further isolate Israel, says State Department; U.K. also condemns the announcement.

Eyal Toueg

The U.S. criticized Israel's publication of tenders for 450 new settlement housing units on Friday, with State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki saying the move was deeply concerning and would further isolate Israel.   

Israel published the tenders on Friday. They included units in a new neighborhood known as East Migron. The move ends an extended period when there was a quiet freeze on new construction over the Green Line.

Speaking at a daily press briefing, Psaki said that although many of the tenders announced Friday are old, the Obama Administration believes this will "inflame tensions, further isolate Israel internationally and will not help Israel's security."  

The tenders include 102 units in the Hebron suburb of Kiryat Arba, 78 single-family homes in Alfei Menashe and 156 units in Elkana. The plans also call for 114 units in East Migron, a new neighborhood born out of an agreement by which settlers would evacuate an outpost built on private Palestinian land and move to a new residential area east of the settlement of Adam. Residents violated the deal, and in the end were given an area closer to Migron.

The U.K. also criticized the move. “The U.K. condemns the Government of Israel’s decision of 30 January to publish new tenders for 450 settlement units in the West Bank of the Occupied Palestinian Territories. The UK’s position on Israeli settlements is clear: they are illegal under international law. We urge the Government of Israel to reverse this decision. It is important to focus on steps that are conducive to peace," Minister for the Middle East Tobias Ellwood said in a statement. 

Meanwhile, the spokesperson for European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini called for a reversal of "these decisions, thereby putting an end to settlement expansion."

Besides the settlement tenders issued on Friday, the Jerusalem Building and Planning Committee submitted a plan to establish 93 housing units in the southern Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo, also located over the Green Line. The plan was previously approved but held up for several years because of ownership issues.

In response to the tenders, PLO Executive Committee member Saeb Erekat called for a ban all settlement products and divestment "from companies and institutions linked directly or indirectly with the Israeli occupation and apartheid policies."

Israel had not issued any tenders for months because Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu feared a harsh American response. Last week, tenders were issued for commercial and tourist-oriented facilities in Emanuel and Ma'ale Adumim.

Opposition to the tenders

Michael Oren, the former Israeli ambassador to the United States, said on Friday that he opposed the tenders. He said in light of events this week, a more Zionist answer would be to build in the Golan Heights and in northern Israel, not in Kiryat Arba.

Oren, a candidate on Moshe Kahlon's Kulanu list, noted that the latest tenders for building in the territories are not constructive for Israel's relations with the United States and do not enhance Israel's ability to defend itself and amass international support.

Zahava Gal-On, chairwoman of the left-wing Meretz party, blasted the timing of the announcement.

"Continued building in the settlements is taking advantage of the election season and is sabotaging any chance of a diplomatic settlement," she said Friday. "The extremist Bibi-Bennett government knows that the American government and the European Union view settlement building as contrary to international law, yet it continues to create facts on the ground in contrast to Israel's existential interest."

"The tenders are an example of pre-election underhanded opportunism by the housing minister and the prime minister, who are trying every minute to create facts on the ground and prevent a diplomatic solution," commented Yariv Oppenheimer, director of Peace Now.

“It’s the opening of the settlement floodgates,” said Daniel Seidemann, head of the Terrestrial Jerusalem group, according to AFP. Seidemann added the announcements were the first of their kind since October, and that he expected more before the March 17 general election.

The Housing and Construction Ministry responded to Peace Now's attack. "The marketing in Judea and Samaria is a relaunch of the marketing of tenders that were issued last year and failed," the ministry said in a statement on Friday. "Failed tenders are automatically reissued by officials in the Israel Lands Authority."