Senior Likud officials admit that decisions regarding settlement construction have a direct link to the upcoming parliamentary elections. "Before the elections, there is a need to define positions, and this is part of it," said a Likud minister to the Israeli website NRG. "We finally realized that Likud voters support construction in Jerusalem and settlements, and therefore they welcome these decisions. This contrast to how these same decisions are depicted in the media,” the minister added.
Settlement of Ramat Shlomo in East Jerusalem (Photo: Wikipedia)
The Israeli Interior Ministry's planning committee approved on Wednesday a project to build 2,610 new homes in Givat HaMatos, a settlement located north of Har Homa and west of Gilo settlements in the areas Israel annexed to Jerusalem following the 1967 Middle East war.
There are four separate sections of the Givat Hamatos settlement (A, B, C, and D), encompassing a total of some 4,000 apartments. The decision regarding Givat HaMatos A came during four days of marathon meetings in the Interior Ministry and Jerusalem municipality’s planning committees, which advanced approvals for 6,500 housing units in settlements last week alone.
On Tuesday the Housing Ministry announced plans to issue tenders this week for construction of 3,000 new homes in the greater Jerusalem-area settlements of Karnei Shomron, Efrat and Givat Ze'ev. The same day the second step in a housing project for the East Jerusalem settlement of Ramat Shlomo was approved. The Interior Ministry's planning committee told developers they must reduce the original plan from 1,600 housing units to 1,500 and submit modifications for final approval of the project. The order to revise the plan came after a meeting at which the committee heard public objections. There still exist a number of stages through which the plan must pass before construction can actually begin.
The project in Ramat Shlomo, was shelved in March 2010 after its announcement set off a diplomatic firestorm during a visit to Israel by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden. Two weeks ago, the project was revived in the wake of the recognition of a Palestinian state by the United Nations General Assembly.
Also on Wednesday, the Defence Ministry green-lighted construction of an additional 523 housing units in the settlement of Gva'ot, located in the southern West Bank. This decision is the first part of a plan to eventually turn the settlement into a city. A plan to build a city of 6,000 housing units at the site of the Gva'ot settlement was approved as early as 2000. The idea was to create territorial continuity between the area in which the settlement is located, the Green Line and the main roads leading to central Israel.
On Thursday, the Interior Ministry gave final approval for construction of approximately 1,000 apartment units in the Gilo settlement, within annexed Jerusalem.
According to Peace Now, during 2012 and before the tenders were approved last week, Israel published 3,046 housing tenders in Jerusalem and the West Bank. This is the largest yearly number in the last decade.
The largest number of tenders since the beginning of the century was announced in 2003 with the publication of 2,512 tenders. Later an average of 1,500 tenders per year were published. When Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu first came into office in 2009, he issued only 170 tenders that year and 615 in 2010. In both years all tenders issued were for settlement construction in East Jerusalem. In 2011, the government published 1,009 new tenders for West Bank settlements and 312 for settlements in East Jerusalem
The number of housing starts in West Bank settlements over the last three years has been the lowest in almost two decades of construction. The number of homes under active construction is similarly the lowest in almost two decades, with 1,409 new homes in West Bank settlements under active construction in the first three-quarters of 2012, according to the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics.
However, Housing Minister Ariel Atias (Shas) asserted on Wednesday that construction in Jerusalem is about the needs of its Jerusalem residents and not about the Palestinian Authority. “The latest construction plans beyond the Green Line were not aimed at undermining Abu Mazen, and were not motivated by the elections,” Attias said.
However, senior Likud officials admit that decisions regarding settlement construction have a direct link to the upcoming parliamentary elections.
"Before the elections, there is a need to define positions, and this is part of it," said a Likud minister to the Israeli website NRG. The minister wished to remain anonymous due to the sensitivity of the issue. "We finally realized that Likud voters support construction in Jerusalem and settlements, and therefore they welcome these decisions. This contrast to how these same decisions are depicted in the media,” the minister added.