Israel continues settlement boom, issuing 2,500 tenders for new settler homes just before Biden inauguration

Israel issued tenders for more than 2,500 new settlement housing units in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem a mere hours before US President Joe Biden was sworn into office, and just days after the government promoted the plans for 780 other settlement units. 

According to settlement watchdog Peace Now, Israel’s Ministry of Housing and the Israel Land Authority (ILA) issued tenders for the construction of 2,572 new housing units on Wednesday, with 2,112 units in the West Bank and 460 in East Jerusalem. 

The vast majority of the tenders’ units, Peace Now said, were issued deep in the West Bank, and in settlements that Israel would have to evacuate in the case of a two-state solution according to the Geneva Initiative. 

By issuing the tenders, the Israeli government has now opened up the process for contractors to submit bids for the purchase of the rights to build the settlement housing units and then sell them to potential buyers. 

According to Peace Now, once the tender is issued, it typically takes around two years for construction to begin on the site. The group noted that the process of issuing tenders is only required in 13 out of more than 140 settlements in the West Bank; in all other settlements tenders are not required for construction to begin. 

The group noted that the 2,572 new tenders were issued in addition to the 780 units promoted in plans for West Bank settlements earlier this week on Sunday —  a move that was regarded by many as both a last ditch effort by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to take advantage of the final days of the Trump administration, and as an attempt to curry favor with his right-wing settler base ahead of Israel’s election in March.

“Our out-of-touch government leadership continues to press on with its mad scramble to promote as much settlement activity as possible until the last minutes before the change of the administration in Washington,” Peace Now said in a statement. 

“By doing so, Netanyahu is signaling to the incoming President that he has no intention of giving the new chapter in US-Israel relations even one day of grace, nor serious thought to how to plausibly resolve our conflict with the Palestinians.”

The group also raised the alarm over Netanyahu’s plans to pass a cabinet decision on the establishment of six new Israeli settlements, by retroactively legalizing a number of existing illegal outposts in the West Bank, as well as “allocating resources toward the legalization of many more outposts.”

Netanyahu reportedly planned to bring up the resolution in a cabinet meeting intended to discuss the coronavirus crisis facing the country. The issue was allegedly removed from the agenda before the meeting by Netanyahu’s political adversaries who felt the move would jeopardize the government’s standing with the incoming US administration. 

According to Peace Now, the proposed resolution sought to allocate 20 million shekels to the Civil Administration, the Israeli agency responsible not only for planning and construction in the settlements, but for enforcing home demolitions in Palestinian towns and villages in Area C. 

The 20 million shekels, along with 13 new employees, were intended to “establish a mechanism to deal with the legal and planning acrobatics required to enable the authorization of many additional outposts,” Peace now said. 

“It should be noted that a similar draft resolution prepared a few weeks ago was not ultimately raised in the government; however, from it one can learn about the government’s intention in working to legalize the outposts,” the group added. 

No approvals for Palestinian housing

While the Israeli government has now approved and promoted thousands of new settlement housing units in the first few weeks of 2021, the government continues to deny Palestinians the right to build on their land in Area C — the more than 60 percent of the West Bank under full Israeli control. 

Palestinians in Area C are required to receive permits from the Israeli Civil Administration in order to build on their land — even if it is privately owned. Such permits are notoriously difficult to come by, and as such Palestinians in Area C face extremely high levels of home demolitions on part of Israeli authorities. 

In the same meeting on Sunday during which the Civil Administration’s Higher Planning Committee (HPC) approved plans to build 780 new settlement housing units, the committee failed to make a decision on a number of Palestinian housing units and construction plans — reportedly a result of increased pressure from the settler movement to remove the plans for Palestinian villages from the committee’s agenda. 

According to Peace Now, the committee is expected to reconvene in the coming days, and there is reportedly “an intention” to approve plans to legalize 70 existing housing units in the Palestinian village of Hizma, along with the addition of 70 new housing units in the village. 

Additionally, in the Bethlehem area village of al-Walaja where home demolitions are rampant, the HPC is “intending to condition the approval of the plan… with the approval of a new bypass road for settlers.” Peace Now also noted that the HPC was forced to take up discussions on construction in al-Walaja after a decision from the high court. 

The group went on to note that the HPC is expected to reject a plan to legalize a school in a Bedouin community in the Jordan Valley, and is expected to approve two Palestinian hotels and an amusement park on the outskirts of Area B, and a 200 square-meter cooling building for a Palestinian farmer in the Jordan Valley.

“These approvals are almost insignificant in terms of the true needs of the Palestinians in Area C,” Peace Now said. “It should be mentioned that in 2020 alone, 12,159 housing units were approved for Israeli settlements, while only 245 housing units, many of which already exist, were approved for Palestinians (note that 245 units for Palestinians is a lot compared to previous years).”

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