Israel Advances 1,300 Homes in West Bank Settlements in First Since Biden Sworn In

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Cranes at a construction site in the Jewish settlement of Beit El, in the West Bank in 2020.
Cranes at a construction site in the Jewish settlement of Beit El, in the West Bank in 2020.Credit: AMIR COHEN / REUTERS

Israel invited bids for the construction of 1,355 housing units in Jewish settlements in the West Bank on Sunday, the first time housing units in West Bank settlements have been promoted since U.S. President Joe Biden took office. 

The issuing of bidding process is the last step before the government begins building the units, which have been practically approved.

According to the plan, 729 units will be constructed in Ariel, 324 in Beit El, 102 in Elkana, and the rest will be built in Geva Binyamin, Immanuel, Karnei Shomron and Betar Illit. 

On Sunday, Construction and Housing Minister Zeev Elkin ordered the units to be advanced after a long period of "construction freeze in the West Bank."

"I welcome the promotion of more than 1,000 housing units. I will continue to strengthen the Jewish settlement in [the West Bank]," said Elkin.

The ministry also said that it plans to double the Jewish population in the Jordan Valley by 2026, and that they will advertise 1,500 housing units in the area. According to the statistics from the committee, there are currently 6,400 settlers in the Jordan Valley.

According to the announcement, the plan's budget will be 224 million shekels (almost $70 million). The bulk of the funds will come from a development subsidy, which applies to government decisions regarding settlements deemed a national priority.

Meanwhile, a committee of Israel’s Civil Administration in the West Bank will meet on Wednesday to possibly approve plans for around 3,100 housing units in settlements and 1,300 in Palestinian towns and villages in Area C, the section of the West Bank under full Israeli civil and security control.

This is the largest number of housing units Israel has promoted for Palestinians in over a decade.

Ahead of the decision, State Department Spokesman Ned Price said the U.S. is "concerned" about the move, adding it is "critical for Israel and the Palestinian Authority to refrain from unilateral steps that exacerbate tension and undercut efforts to advance a negotiated two-state solution. This certainly includes settlement activity, as well as retroactive legalization of settlement outposts."

The American criticism has been limited, in part due to the fact that Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid told the U.S. administration they would be restricted in their ability to advance settlement construction because of the composition of the coalition.

The Biden administration did not issue a condemnation of the move of its own accord, but only addressed the matter when asked at a press conference. 

The UN envoy to the Middle East Tor Wennesland said in a statement: "I am deeply concerned by continued Israeli settlement expansion in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem. I reiterate that all settlements are illegal under international law, remain a substantial obstacle to peace, and must cease immediately."

The left-wing group Peace Now said that the government continues the annexation polices of former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. "Meretz and the Labor Party should wake up and demand the immediate halt of construction in settlements that could hamper chances of a diplomatic solution," the group said in a statement.

Ben Samuels contributed to this report. 

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