Construction in Kiryat Arba, Judea
Construction in Kiryat Arba, JudeaIsrael news photo: Flash 90

The Palestinian Authority is objecting to Israel's latest attempt to relieve its intense housing shortage.

The Housing Ministry announced Monday a new nationwide plan to lower housing prices and provide affordable living options in at least 38 towns around the country.

Of the 6,900 units to be provided throughout the country, less than 300 will be earmarked for two towns in Judea and Samaria: Beitar Illit, and Karnei Shomron.

It is specifically these 294 housing units that set off the firestorm in the PA administration, prompting the Ramallah-based government to renew its vow to seek recognition of independent sovereignty from the United Nations -- and find another excuse not to negotiate with Israel.

“This decision is another reason calling on us to go to the United Nations and the Security Council to ask for recognition of the state of Palestine and gaining full membership for it in the United Nations,” said Nabil Abu Rdaina, a spokesman for PA Chairman and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas.

The PA has consistently refused to negotiate with Israel on a final status agreement, despite a 10-month freeze on Israeli construction in Judea and Samaria that began November 2009. A de facto freeze was also imposed in areas of Jerusalem desired by the PA for its hoped-for new country.

With only one month remaining on the moratorium, Abbas grudgingly agreed to meet with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu after intense pressure from the White House – but after three “photo op” meetings refused to negotiate unless the prime minister agreed to renew the building freeze as a precondition for talks.

The United States made a strong effort to encourage Israel to accept the demand, offering a package of incentives -- but then began to backpedal. Ultimately Netanyahu, who had promised Israelis there would be no more freezes, refused to commit to any preconditions without similar concessions on the PA side, and there the matter ended.

Housing prices in Israel have increased by at least 50 percent in the past three years, due not only to the worldwide economic crash but also due to the effects of the 10-month building freeze – the increased demand and lack of supply.

The ministry said it would publish tenders for land to build 6,900 housing units. Among these will be 1,000 rental apartments, including 900 rent-controlled apartments.

Housing and Construction Minister Ariel Atias said in a statement that the fastest and most effective way to address the housing shortage for young couples and families was to increase the supply of land.

“As part of this concept, the Ministry of Housing and the Israel Land Administration continue their focused effort to increase the supply and launch another wave of marketing of land for residential construction,” he said.

The winner of the tender must commit to up to ten years of rent control for eligible tenants based on ministry criteria, according to the ministry. “A 50 percent weight will be given... to bidders who offer the lowest monthly rent for ten years,” the statement continued.