Indications that Israel is advancing its plans to expand in the West Bank were on display today after Israel published bids for the building of 450 new housing units in settlements in the West Bank. According to the released bids, roughly 100 of the new housing units are planned for Kiryat Arba, a settlement deep in the West Bank. The others are planned for settlements closer to Jerusalem in Adam, Elkana and Alfei.
Israeli settlements in the West Bank have angered Palestinians and sparked attacks against the settlements. Most of the world considers the settlements in the Israeli-occupied West Bank to be a violation of international law. Israel considers the West Bank to be disputed territory.
The publishing of the bids elicited sharp criticism from the United States, which referred to the action as illegitimate and counterproductive. Tensions between the Obama administration and Israel’s government were already heightened over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s planned address to Congress in February. The address was apparently arranged without coordination with the White House and scheduled at the behest of John Boehner, Speaker of the United States House of Representatives. The United States is considered to be Israel’s most important ally.
The United States has repeatedly issued condemnations of Israeli settlement plans for the West Bank. The European Union also criticized the construction bids, saying in a statement that the plans “are illegal in international law and constitute an obstacle to peace.” Legislative support for recognition of a Palestinian state has been growing in Europe.
Ariel Rosenberg, a spokesman for the Israeli Housing Ministry, said the bids were not new. Instead, they were reopened by the Israel Land Authority, the government agency responsible for land management, after failing to attract contractors last year. Some believe that the actions to advance plans for settlements in the West Bank are meant to appease right-wing voters ahead of Israel’s March elections. Israeli critics of the government called the move a provocative political gesture.