Israel on Tuesday approved the construction of 1,500 housing units in Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria, and green-lighted the planning of 2,000 additional housing units in the area. Senior political sources said construction on the projects is set to begin immediately, as they pertain to plans that have been made public in the past.
Another senior political source said that the move was coordinated with the U.S. "It was clear, ahead of the resumption of the negotiations that Israel will not agree to any limitations regarding construction," he said.
The projects include construction in the Ramat Shlomo and Gilo neighborhoods in Jerusalem, in the communities of Adam, Givat Ze'ev, Maaleh Adumim and Beitar Illit in the Jerusalem vicinity area, and in Ariel and Karnei Shomron in Samaria.
Future construction plans include additional expansion of Ramat Shlomo and Givat Ze'ev; as well as construction in Kfar Adumim, Almog and Mehola in the Jordan Valley; and in several Judea and Samaria settlements, including Karnei Shomron, Yakir, Shilo, Talmon, Bracha, Ofra and Beit El.
Interior Minister Gideon Sa'ar has also garnered Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's consent to immediately promote several additional projects, including a new tourism and archeology center in the City of David in Jerusalem, and promoting the national park near Mount Scopus.
The plans were announced in the wake of the release of 26 Palestinian terrorists, who were paroled as part of a four-phase release schedule pledged by Israel to the Palestinian Authority ahead of the peace talks' resumption in August.
A High Court of Justice petition filed Tuesday by the Almagor Terror Victims Association in hopes of stopping the move was denied, and shortly after midnight, the prisoners left the Ofer Prison, under heavy guard, en route to the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
"I want to see justice done," Ortal Tamam, whose uncle, IDF soldier Moshe Tamam was abducted and murdered in 1984, told the court. "I served in the military and I love my country. I don't understand why we're facing this situation, where murderers who killed soldiers are being released. I want to see justice done – I don’t want to wake up tomorrow morning and hear that 26 murderers got to go home."
Despite what was describe as emotional pleas by the terror victims' families, the court denied the petition, saying there was no legal merit to infringe on the government's decision in the matter.
Almagor Chairman Meir Indor told reporters that, "The bereaved families expected the High Court of Justice – which has only recently weighed in on a government decision regarding African infiltrators – to fight the government head on, but the judges have proven that terror victims mean nothing to them. They have folded the flag of justice instead of waving it where it matters the most – before terror organizations."
Defense Minister Moshe (Bogie) Ya'alon commented on the prisoners' release Tuesday saying, "This was not a choice between good and bad, but a choice between the lesser of two evils. My heart goes out to the bereaved families, but as a responsible government we sometimes have to make such decision. I hope that we are able to realize whatever benefits lie within this painful decision."
Meanwhile, Palestinians in Ramallah and Gaza celebrated the release of the prisoners. The 21 prisoners returning to the West Bank attended an official reception at the Mukataa in Ramallah, where Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas greeted them personally.
"We welcome our brothers the heroes coming from behind the bars to a world of freedom and liberty," Abbas was quoted as saying.
"No permanent peace agreement would be signed as long as there is one single prisoner in Israeli jails," Abbas said.
The mother of Yasser Abd Rabo, the oldest prisoner to be released Tuesday and a resident of Bethlehem said, "This is a dream come true. I never believed that my son would be released in my lifetime. I won't believe it's true until I see him back home."
Palestinian media reported Tuesday that every prisoner who was released will receive a special grant from the PA, according to the length of his prison sentence. The grants – some of which are expected to amount to tens of thousands of dollars – will join a monthly stipend the PA plans to allot the prisoners, ranging between 2,500 and 4,500 shekels ($710-$1,280) a month.