Israel issued a tender for the construction of 550 additional new homes in the West Bank on 2 October. The new houses will be built on the ultra-Orthodox Beitar Elit settlement, near Jerusalem. The announcement came a day after the cabinet agreed to extend the 'security fence', which separates Israel and the West Bank. The Housing Ministry said the new homes were part of a long-term strategy to create housing across the country and not just in the settlements. The new buildings will 'develop the communities in accordance with their needs and natural growth', said a spokesman. The news of the tender came a day after US Assistant Secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs William Burns said that settlements could harm Israel's future. 'Settlements continue to grow - encouraged by specific government policies and at enormous expense to Israel's economy, and this persists even as it becomes clear that the logic of settlements and the reality of demographics could threaten the future of Israel,' he said.
The international community has condemned the building of Israeli homes on occupied land, declaring the practice illegal. However, the Israeli government has an urgent need for new housing in the country, and the occupied areas offer an alternative to the overpopulated cities. Settlers provide strong support for the National Religious Party (Mafdal), of which Housing Minister Effi Eitam is a member.