Israel published tenders on Friday for the construction of 450 new housing units in a move that critics denounced as a political gesture ahead of a March general election.
Ariel Rosenberg, spokesman for Israel’s Housing Ministry, said the government was simply remarketing tenders that had failed to sell when they were initially offered last year, and that there were no new authorizations.
The list of tenders includes: 156 homes in Elkana, 114 homes in Geva Binyamin (Adam), 102 in Kiryat Arba and 78 in Alfei Menashe. In addition, tenders were published for a hotel in Maaleh Adumim, as well as for commerical projects in that city and in Emmanuel, north of Ariel.
Israel goes to the polls on March 17, with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu seeking a fourth term in office. A number of groups, including Netanyahu’s own Likud party, are battling to win over voters.
In Washington, the U.S. State Department criticized the planned construction.
“We believe that [such moves] are illegitimate and counterproductive to achieving a two-state outcome. We have deep concerns about these highly contentious construction announcements,” said State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki.
“They will have detrimental effects on the ground, inflame already-heightened tensions with the Palestinians and further isolate Israel internationally,” she told reporters.
In addition to the published tenders for the planned 450 units, authorities have submitted plans for the construction of 93 new homes in the eastern Yerushalayim neighborhood of Gilo, Peace Now said.
The group called the wave of bids “a pre-election grab to establish facts on the ground” and said it risked worsening relations between Israel and the United States before a planned speech to Congress by Netanyahu on March 3.
Former ambassador to the U.S., Michael Oren, a candidate for Knesset, called it a mistake.
“In light of the events of this week [Hizbullah’s attack on the northern border], a more appropriate response would have been to build in the Golan Heights and northern communities, rather than in Kiryat Arba,” Oren said.
“This move certainly does not contribute to our relationship with the United States. It does not strengthen Israel’s ability to defend itself, nor does it allow it to garner international support for that defense.”