Israel's Housing Ministry published on Tuesday tenders for the construction of hundreds of new housing units in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Har Homa, located beyond the Green Line.
The five tenders published by the ministry include 827 new housing units, most of which, 632, are to be part of a new section of the neighborhood called Har Homa Gimel, which is slated to be built on an empty hill.
The new construction will significantly expand Har Homa to the south and east, bringing it closer to Palestinian towns Beit Sahour and Nuaman.
Construction in Har Homa is considered especially provocative in the eyes of the Palestinians and the international community, as it is the most recent large Israeli neighborhood to be built over the Green Line. It was originally built in the 1990s.
During negotiations conducted between Israel and the Palestinians under former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Har Homa was the only East Jerusalem neighborhood which the Palestinians refused to allow to remain on the Israeli side after the division of the city.
Critics on the left claim expansion of the neighborhood will significantly reduce the chances of reaching a peace agreement in the future.
"A moment before Passover, when public opinion is focused elsewhere, the state is selling off Jerusalem," said Judith Oppenheimer, CEO of Ir Amim. "The construction is a serious blow to the chances for a future solution."
Oppenheimer said Har Homa Gimel is actually a new neighborhood being presented as part of an existing neighborhood, adding that its construction would make the existing disconnect between Bethlehem and Jerusalem permanent.
The Housing Ministry said in response that the tender is nothing new, and the plan was announced five months ago. "The reason for the delay was a disagreement with the Jerusalem Municipality over real estate tax."
On Monday, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat announced that he intends to promote the establishment of a new Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem. About 200 new homes are being planned for the new neighborhood, known as Kidmat Zion, on a plot of land purchased by U.S. millionaire Irving Moskowitz, a longtime patron of Jewish settlers in East Jerusalem.
Barkat made his intentions known to the three Meretz party members of his city council coalition. They said in response that they would pull out of the coalition as soon as the mayor took a concrete step toward implementing the plan. That step is expected to come if and when the planning budget for the new neighborhood is approved during one of the next meetings of the Knesset Finance Committee.
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