JERUSALEM (AFP) – Israel on Friday published tenders to build 450 new settler homes in the occupied West Bank, a watchdog said, in a plan denounced by the Palestinians as a “war crime”.
Settlement watchdog Peace Now tied the move to Israel’s March 17 general election in which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud is competing with other rightwing parties for the settler vote.
“It is a pre-election grab to establish facts on the ground made by the Netanyahu government,” Peace Now said in a statement.
It said the inevitable US condemnation would add to strains over Netanyahu’s acceptance of a controversial invitation to address Congress on Iran that has sparked a bitter row with the White House.
“After embarrassing the Obama administration with the invitation to the congress, Netanyahu adds another slap in the face of the Americans, and shows no respect to Israel’s closest ally,” it said.
Daniel Seidemann, head of the Terrestrial Jerusalem group which also monitors settlement, said the latest plans were the first of their kind to be announced in several months and unlikely to be the last before the next month’s polls.
“It’s the opening of the settlement floodgates,” he told AFP.
“This could hardly be an accident,” he said. “It could not have taken place without Netanyahu’s knowledge and consent.”
Peace Now said the new homes were to be built in four existing settlements across the West Bank – 114 in Adam, 156 in Elkana, 78 in Alfei Menashe and 102 in Kiryat Arba.
Seidemann, who had earlier spoken of 430 new settler homes, said the numbers given by Peace Now figure were correct.
Palestine Liberation Organisation official Wassel Abu Yusef slammed the project.
“What the Israelis announced is part of a wider war… against the Palestinian people,” Abu Yusef told AFP. “This is a war crime which should push the settlements issue to the International Criminal Court.”