JERUSALEM,(Reuters) – Israel plans to build 164 new homes in three Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, despite an obligation under a U.S.-backed peace “road map” to halt such construction on land Palestinians seek for a state.
The Israel Lands Administration, a government agency, issued a tender inviting bids on 88 plots in the Ariel settlement, 56 in Alfei Menashe and 20 in Karnei Shomron. The tenders were published by Israeli media on Thursday.
Israel’s Peace Now settlement watchdog criticised the move.
“This tender hurts the interests of the state of Israel. It is a provocative step which goes against the majority of the Israeli public,” said Mossi Raz, a senior member of the group.
The latest tender follows one published on Sept. 4 to build 690 new homes in the settlements of Maaleh Adumim and Beitar Ilit, the largest number of housing bids for settlement building offered since Prime Minister Ehud Olmert took office on May 4.
Israel Lands Administration data showed a separate 98 housing plots were marketed in the West Bank from January to August.
The new tender brings to 952 the number of plots offered this year. That compares with 1,180 plots in 2005 and 1,075 in 2004.
While Israel has failed to suspend settlement building under the first stage of the road map, the Palestinians have not met their own obligation to dismantle militant groups.
Before the Lebanon war, Olmert had planned to unilaterally withdraw from swathes of the West Bank in the absence of peace talks with the Palestinians. He shelved that plan after Israel’s month-long war with Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon that ended with an Aug. 14 truce.
Hezbollah fired nearly 4,000 rockets at towns in northern Israel during the war, raising concern among Israelis that a West Bank pullback could leave cities in the centre of the Jewish state vulnerable to similar attacks by Palestinians.
The World Court has branded all Jewish settlements on occupied land as illegal. Israel disputes this.
Some 240,000 Jewish settlers and 2.4 million Palestinians live in the West Bank, territory Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war.