Wednesday, March 4, 2009 at 06:14PM
|By Haaretz Service|
|Housing Minister Ze'ev Boim on Wednesday called a report released earlier this week over a government plan to build more than 73,300 new housing units in the West Bank "delusional and baseless."
"There are a total of 11,530 housing units in Judea and Samaria that were approved by Housing and Construction institutions," Boim told Knesset. "The report about 73,000 housing units is delusional and baseless."
Peace Now's report released on Monday estimates that if 73,000 units were built, it would mean a 100-percent increase in the total number of Israeli settlers. The report says that some settlements, including the two largest Ariel and Ma'aleh Adumim, would double in size.
The report states that 5,722 of the planned housing units are in East Jerusalem, and some 9,000 units in total have already been built.
Peace Now says that a new right-wing government presents the danger of "expanding settlement growth at a rapid pace... with the clear intention of destroying the possibility of a two-state solution."
Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu of the rightist Likud party, tapped to form the new government after the February 10 elections, has expressed his opposition to a two-state solution. He also said that while a Likud government would not build new settlements, it would allow natural growth in existing ones.
But the Peace Now report says 17,000 units are planned for Gush Etzion, near Bethelehem, to be built outside existing settlements.
The report also states some 19,000 of the planned homes would be built beyond the route of the West Bank separation fence, including in Kiryat Arba in Hebron and Ariel.
In total, the report says, the planned West Bank homes account for 22 percent of housing units currently planned by the Housing Ministry.
Responding to the report, the Housing Ministry said on Monday Peace Now was making "a big deal out of nothing."
It said the plans gave only a general picture of the potential for settlement building and actual projects and construction were conditional on policies set by the ministers of housing and defense.
MK Yaakov Katz of the right wing National Union on Monday welcomed the news that Israel is pushing ahead with construction in the West Bank.
"We will make every effort to realize the plans outlined by [Peace Now official Yariv] Oppenheimer," Katz told Army Radio on Monday. "I expect that, with God's help, this will all happen in the next few years, and there will be one state here."
National Union is pushing for increased settlement construction as part of a coalition deal with Netanyahu, and Katz is among those jostling for the post of Housing Minister.
Settlement expansion has long been a source of contention between Israel and the international community, in particular the U.S. The Obama administration is planning to put heavy pressure on the new Israeli government to freeze all settlement construction.
Deputy U.S. State Department Spokesman Gordon Duguid issued a response later Monday, saying "what we do have to say we have said many times from this podium, that we call on both sides not to take any actions that exacerbate tensions in the region. But I don?t have any particular information on this report.