Israel will announce new construction tenders across the Green Line next week, following the third stage of the Palestinian prisoner release, an Israeli official said Wednesday.
This move is expected to be made despite requests from both the United States and Europe to not declare new construction in Judea and Samaria during the ongoing peace talks, as well as a specific request from the U.S. not to do so after the upcoming third stage of the Palestinian prisoner release.
Israel's Channel 2 TV said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu planned to announce "massive construction" next week. Channel 10 TV spoke of 1,000 to 2,000 new homes. Both reports cited anonymous officials close to the prime minister.
"I believe it is our right to build, certainly according to our understandings and agreements with the Americans, and in accordance with that, we will continue to build," said Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon said on Wednesday.
Wasil Abu Yousif, a Palestinian official, said the expected announcement is evidence that Israel is "not serious" about pursuing peace. While stopping short of threatening to withdraw from the current round of peace negotiations, he said Israel's policy would force the Palestinians to seek "more substantial alternatives."
For years, the Palestinians refused to negotiate with Israel while settlement construction continued, saying it was a sign of bad faith. But under heavy U.S. pressure, the Palestinians reluctantly agreed to resume talks with Israel last summer.
While Israel did not agree to halt settlement construction, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has urged restraint. Because of the Christmas holiday, there was no immediate American reaction to Wednesday's reports.
An Israeli official said Israel was "strictly abiding by understandings reached in the framework of this round of negotiations."
The negotiations are scheduled to last for nine months, until late April.
Under a U.S.-brokered deal to renew negotiations, Israel agreed to release 104 long-serving Palestinian prisoners. The releases, taking place in four stages, have caused an uproar in Israel because the prisoners have been convicted in deadly attacks on Israelis.
It is still not clear exactly which prisoners will be released next week, but the final two installments are expected to include some terrorists who were convicted of murdering women and children. The list of the 26 prisoners to be released will be determined by a special committee of ministers, including Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, Science and Technology Minister Yaakov Peri, Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch, representatives from the Shin Bet security agency, the Israel Prison Service and the Justice Ministry. Requests from the public and various MKs to see the list of prisoners has been met with a response from the Prime Minister's Office saying that the list will only be crystallized when the committee meets. The meeting is expected to take place Thursday, with the list to be made public on the Justice Ministry website afterward.
Among the 52 prisoners already released in the first two stages were Salim Suleiman Mohammed and Adam Ibrahim Juma'a, who murdered Rachel Weiss and her three children, Efraim, Netanel and Rafael, in 1988. The two terrorists threw Molotov cocktails onto a bus traveling from Tiberias to Jerusalem, killing Weiss and her children as well as soldier David Delarosa, who tried to help the family.
"We are not happy to be releasing prisoners," said Ya'alon. "In the past I have expressed that releasing prisoners is a part of wider considerations. We are now ahead of the third prisoner release installment, and we will have the appropriate discussions in the right places in order to decide if and whom to release."
Peri is expected to be a part of the discussion on whether to release two terrorists responsible for murdering one of his former colleagues, Shin Bet operative Haim Nahmani. In 1993, Perry was head of the Shin Bet and he knew Nahmani, who was killed in Jerusalem while meeting at a safe house with a Palestinian informant, by the man's two cousins.
Mohammed Daoud is also set to be released. In 1987, he murdered Ofra Moses, who was pregnant, as well as her 5-year-old son. Her widower, Abraham Moses wrote an open letter to Netanyahu, saying, "If you are already releasing the murderers of my loved ones, at least exile them."
Right-wing movement My Israel hung huge signs in the last few days near the Kirya, the Israel Defense Forces Headquarters in Tel Aviv, declaring "Shame on you." On Thursday evening, the group will hold a protest in the same spot.
On Wednesday, a protest tent was erected outside the prime minister's residence in Jerusalem by Ortal Tamam, the niece of late soldier Moshe Tamam, who was kidnapped and murdered in 1984 by three Israeli Arabs from Baqa al-Gharbiyye. Two of the three murderers have already been released, and the third's name comes up each time there is talk of another release.
Tamam plans to stay in the protest tent for the next several days.
"We will sleep here every night in the Jerusalem cold until Netanyahu changes this decision," she said on Wednesday evening. "This is not a goodwill gesture, it is sticking a knife in the back of bereaved families. If they came and said the only thing preventing peace is the release of terrorists, I would react in a different way, but when they say we need to release 104 murderers so that they will sit and talk with us about peace, it's absurd." The Terror Victims Association also unleashed criticism of the prisoner release.
Meanwhile, the High Court dealt Wednesday with the petition of the Schijveschuurder family, whose parents and three siblings were murdered in the 2001 Sbarro suicide bombing in Jerusalem. The family asked the court to instruct the government to reconsider the prisoner release. The ruling is expected in the coming days.
Despite no change in the prisoner release decision, bereaved mothers who object to the move came to the Knesset on Wednesday to meet with Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon.
The meeting included Tali Ben Yishai, grandmother of the Fogel family who was murdered in Itamar in 2011; Sherri Mandell, whose son Koby was murdered in 2001; Chaya Rond, whose son Erez was murdered in a 2002 shooting attack; and Shira Avraham, whose infant daughter was murdered in 2003. MKs David Tzur (Hatnuah), Nissim Ze'ev (Shas) and Habayit Hayehudi MKs Yoni Chetboun, Shuli Mualem-Rafaeli and Ayelet Shaked also attended.
"I call on the prime minister to reconsider the expected prisoner release after [this week's] terror attacks," Danon said.
Shaked said: "Israel has lost all morals that characterize a state, and the morals that should characterize a Jewish state. The Shalit deal was bad and sick. The murderers [from the] Shalit deal are now carrying out terror acts in Gaza and Judea and Samaria."
She also said, "It doesn't matter who heads the government, they always make deals like this. If Netanyahu is doing this, then I don't know what to expect anymore."
Mualem-Rafaeli said: "The safeguarding of the lives of Israeli citizens is a value that is not taken into account in the deals to free terrorists. We have known for many years already that there is incitement. People are murdered because they are Israeli citizens and just because they are Jews. The first consideration should be our lives."