Some of the new units will house evacuees from the Netzarim settlement that was dismantled in Gaza in 2005 • New housing units are latest in series of construction approvals that have garnered criticism from Palestinians and the international community.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak last week approved the construction of 277 new housing units in Ariel, 100 of which are to be allocated to evacuees from Netzarim, a former settlement built in Gaza that was dismantled during the 2005 disengagement.
The plans for the new housing units in Ariel are the latest in a series of construction projects recently passed by the government.
Last week, Interior Minister Eli Yishai gave final approval for the construction of 1,600 new housing units in the ultra-Orthodox East Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo, located over the Green Line.
A spokesman for the Interior Ministry said the housing plans are not political, but rather a reaction to recent protests about the high cost of living and calls for more affordable housing in Israel.
Last March, the ministry announced the construction of the 1,600 housing units in question, just as U.S. Vice President Joe Biden was visiting the region. The announcement sparked outrage from the international community and led to a diplomatic rift with the U.S. Earlier this month, the Interior Ministry also approved the construction of 930 housing units in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Har Homa.
The approval of the housing plans has garnered fierce criticism from the Palestinians and the international community.
Asked to comment on the Har Homa project, U.S. State Department spokesman Jay Carney said the U.S. "position on that has not changed, which is that we urge both sides not to take any action that makes it harder for the two sides to come together and negotiate."
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland echoed his remarks, the French news agency AFP reported.
"As we've said many times, unilateral action of this kind works against our efforts to get folks back to the table, makes it all more difficult, and undercuts trust," she said.
Also expressing dismay at the construction plans, Palestinian Authority chief negotiator Saeb Erakat said in a statement that the housing approval showed that Israel “is committed to investing in occupation rather than peace.”
"In the past few days, members of the international community ... condemned the expansion of the illegal settlement of Har Homa. Today, Israel has responded to this international consensus with intransigence and willful disregard,” Erekat said.
European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton last week also expressed disapproval for the plan.
"I am profoundly disappointed by Thursday's approval of a project that has triggered fierce criticism from the Palestinians and the international community," Ashton said.