Israeli Settlement Tenders Reach 10-Year High

Israel West Bank Settlement
A labourer stands on an apartment building under construction in a Jewish settlement known to Israelis as Har Homa and to Palestinians as Jabal Abu Ghneim, in an area of the West Bank that Israel captured in a 1967 war and annexed to the city of Jerusalem, October 28, 2014. Reuters

A 10-year record number of tenders were issued by the Israeli government for the construction of settlements in the occupied Palestinians territories last year, a new report by an Israeli settlement watchdog has revealed.

According to the report, in 2014, Israel authorised 4,485 tenders, an increase on the 3,710 issued in 2013 and a marked increase on the 858 issued in 2007.

The report, released by the anti-settlement group Peace Now ahead of the Israeli election scheduled for March 17, also revealed that new settlement construction has increased 40% under the third government of Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Construction of 3,100 units began in West Bank settlements in 2014 in comparison with 2,243 units in 2013 and just 995 in 2012.

Peace Now's findings also reveal a marked increase of settlement tenders being issued in the mainly Arab-populated East Jerusalem, with 3,699 issued under Netanyahu's second term and 4,255 issued in his current term, an increase of 15%.

The figures for Israeli settlement construction have continued to rise despite U.S. criticism of the continued issuance of tenders. Washington last month described the latest batch of tenders as "illegitimate" and "counterproductive" to peace in the region.

Grant Rumley, researcher of Palestinian and Jordanian politics at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), says the continued increase of settlement tenders and new construction work may be caused by the lack of repercussions from allies, such as the United States, deterring Israel.

"[The Israeli government] know they can do it," he says. "They know they can issue these tenders and there is very little pushback. The retaliation rarely extends past the rhetorical."

Daniel Nisman, president of the Tel-Aviv-based geopolitical risk consultancy The Levantine Group, says that the decision to issue tenders and construct settlement units are "based on tactical, internal considerations" within the Israeli government.

The timing of the report's release can almost certainly be attributed to the upcoming Israeli elections and also Palestine's impeding membership of the International Criminal Court (ICC) on April 1, Rumley adds.

"I think everyone is going to say it is because of the Israeli elections. But I also think this came out before April 1 when the Palestinians become members of the ICC. It's going to add to the political playbook so to speak."

In 2013, the United Nations Human Rights Council presented findings which claimed that Israel had repeatedly violated international law in its policy of settlement creation and requested a removal of all of the West Bank's settlers and "cease all settlement activities without preconditions". Israel refused to cooperate with the council and Yigal Palmor, the spokesman for the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs at the time, dismissed the report as giving "Israel a raw deal".

Peace Now did not respond to a request for comment. A representative for the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) - the body responsible for implementing the Israeli government's policies in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip - declined to comment.