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The Israel Defense Forces recently issued an order expropriating over 1,100 dunams of land from four Arab villages located between East Jerusalem and the West Bank settlement of Ma'aleh Adumim.

The land is slated to be used for a new Palestinian road that would connect East Jerusalem with Jericho. That in turn would "free up" the E-1 area between Jerusalem and Ma'aleh Adumim - through which the current Jerusalem-Jericho road runs - for a long-planned Jewish development consisting of 3,500 apartments and an industrial park.

The Palestinians and the international community, including the United States, have long objected to the E-1 plan on the grounds that it would cut the West Bank in two and sever East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank. Israel claims that the new road will solve this latter problem.

Due mainly to American objections, the E-1 plan has been frozen since 2004, other than construction of a thus-far empty police station in the area. Public Security Minister Avi Dichter told Haaretz last week that police would move into the station by the end of this year. However, Israel promised the U.S. at the time that the station would not serve as an initial stage of the full housing project.

The land is being confiscated from the villages of Abu Dis, Arab al-Sawahra, Nebi Musa and Talhin Alhamar. The expropriation order was signed on September 24.

The new road will run along a route originally planned by the Ma'aleh Adumim municipality in 2005. According to that plan, the route was meant to ensure "transportational contiguity among Palestinian population centers."

The plan also noted that the proposed housing development in E-1 would create an uninterrupted urban expanse between Jerusalem and Ma'aleh Adumim. Such an expanse would effectively sever the territorial contiguity between the northern and southern West Bank.

Ma'aleh Adumim's plan also called for building several other new roads to ensure "transportational contiguity" among Palestinian cities after work started on E-1. For instance, it proposed a ring road east of Ma'aleh Adumim that would link Hebron and Bethlehem, south of the settlement, with Ramallah to its north. Until the current expropriation order was issued, however, no steps had been taken toward building any of these roads.

Vice Premier Haim Ramon, the minister in charge of the "seam" region that runs along the border between Israel and the West Bank, told Haaretz that he was not consulted about the expropriation order and knows nothing about it.

The Defense Ministry said that the land was expropriated to pave the road and "has nothing to do with the E-1 issue."

An official in the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv, who asked to remain anonymous, said that he could not comment on the expropriation order, "since we don't yet know all the details," but in general the U.S. opposes any move that could impair the chances of an Israeli-Palestinian final-status deal.

Barak Ravid contributed to this report.