JERUSALEM, Israel -- Israel's announcement for plans to build more homes in Jewish communities in eastern Jerusalem and biblical Judea and Samaria (a.k.a. the West Bank) is once again causing an international stir, but Israeli sources say that both the Obama administration and the Palestinian Authority knew it would take place following a release of Palestinian terrorists.
According to Israeli government sources, both the U.S. and P.A. knew that each of the four-stage prisoner releases would be accompanied by announcements of new construction in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria.
Back in July, Israeli media suggested that Netanyahu had cut a deal with Trade and Labor Minister Naftali Bennett, chairman of the Jewish Home Party, to advance construction in Judea and Samaria at each of the four-stage prisoner releases.
Bennett, who came out strongly against releasing terror prisoners, denied then and now he'd agreed to the "swap out."
"The attempt to link the release of the murderers to construction tenders is manipulative and morally wrong," Jewish Home said in a statement released on Thursday. "It will be better if the prime minister does not release murderers and does not build. This looks like a despicable attempt to free murderers and tarnish the settlement movement."
Meanwhile, Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas dismissed a connection between the prisoner release and construction in Israeli towns and cities.
Abbas welcomed 21 of the convicts in Ramallah, calling them "our veteran heroes" and intimating there would be no peace agreement until Israel releases all Arab prisoners.
Abbas' spokesman Nabil Abu Rudaineh said all "settlements" are illegal and accused Israel of flouting international law and destroying the peace process by building anywhere outside the pre-1967 armistice lines, which Palestinians consider "occupied" land.
Israel, however, says it will continue building residences in existing communities, like any country, to accommodate its growing population.
The new apartment homes are slated to be built in two established Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem and several towns in the vicinity of the capital, as well as the Samarian cities of Ariel and Karnei Shomron.
The two Jerusalem neighborhoods are Ramat Shlomo, a predominantly religious neighborhood north of the city, sandwiched between Ramot and French Hill, and Gilo, a sprawling neighborhood of more than 40,000 residents, in the city's southern sector, just a 15-minute drive from the city center.
The projects have been moving through the approval system for several years so construction is set to begin without further delay.
The communities of Givat Ze'ev, Ma'aleh Adumim, Beitar Illit and Adam on the outskirts of Jerusalem will also be constructing new homes for their residents.
Netanyahu also finalized approval for a national park near the Mount Scopus campus of Hebrew University and a new archaeological project and tourist attraction in Silwan, the predominantly Arab neighborhood across from the City of David and Jerusalem's Old City walls.