JERUSALEM (Jul. 29)
Housing Minister Ariel Sharon announced Monday that the planned settlement of Avnei Hefetz near the Arab city of Tulkarm in the West Bank would soon become a “large town.”
Road-paving and infrastructure work have already begun, he said.
Meanwhile, the Housing Ministry approved Sunday the construction of 380 new homes in the Golan Heights, whose status might be raised at the negotiating table should peace talks between Israel and Syria materialize.
Some observers sensed a provocative move by Sharon, a Likud hard-liner who opposes peace talks.
His policy is to rapidly increase the Jewish population of the territories Israel seized in 1967 to preclude their return in exchange for peace.
But Golan residents insist that the decision to build the houses was made years ago, but became bogged down in bureaucratic red tape.
Sharon, meanwhile, outlined his plans Monday to leaders of the Building Contractors Association. He said his ministry planned 60,000 new housing units next year, of which half would be in the administered territories, Jerusalem or on the so-called Green Line, the imaginary boundary between the territories and Israel proper.
The chain of settlements would be known as “Star Project.”
The contractors, delighted to get the new business, nevertheless expressed concern that Sharon’s projections were too optimistic. They doubted that more than 40,000 new housing units could be built next year.