JERUSALEM, June 6 (UPI) -- Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said Wednesday night the way has been cleared for 851 new settlement housing units.
Netanyahu and Housing and Construction Minister Ariel Atias said they would immediately issue construction tenders for 300 units in Beit El and 551 in four other settlements, Ynetnews.com reported. A source the Israeli news Web site did not identify said, "The obstacles have been removed and we're looking at where more construction can be approved."
The green light came after the Israeli parliament, on a 69-22 vote, shot down a bill aimed at circumventing a High Court ruling ordering the eviction of five homes in Beit El's Ulpana neighborhood. Netanyahu had threatened to dump any member of his government who voted in favor of it.
The move to allow several hundred new housing units in the settlements was viewed as an attempt to placate conservatives, but poses a risk of drawing the ire of the United States and Europe, which oppose such expansions, Ynetnews said.
The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported Netanyahu said the decision to relocate the homes illegally built on Palestinian land was not an easy one.
"Relocating houses is not a step that the government is happy to take," the prime minister told reporters, adding, "The court has ordered their relocation and we respect its decisions."
Haaretz said while the bill was being discussed in the Knesset, hundreds of supporters of the measure demonstrated nearby, blocking roads, disrupting rail service and clashing with police. At least eight protesters were arrested.
The homes targeted for removal are to be relocated to a former army base in the Beit El settlement, where 300 housing units will be built, Haaretz had previously reported.
Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein said he had met with Netanyahu to discuss the issue.
Netanyahu said Tuesday he had agreed to establish and serve as head of a government committee on settlements empowered to authorize West Bank Jewish construction without a full Cabinet decision, The Jerusalem Post reported.