Israeli government takes key step to ease pressure on overcrowded Arab town
Jewish neighbors threaten to 'desert their homes' if necessary.
The government has moved a step closer to rerouting part of the coastal highway - a decision that would add land to an overcrowded Arab town and move it closer to Jewish communities.
On Thursday the transportation and interior ministries agreed to readjust a two-kilometer stretch of the highway, which would add 800 dunams for construction to the Arab town of Jisr al-Zarqa.
The rerouting means that land will be taken from Caesarea, Kibbutz Ma'agan Michael and Beit Hanania; residents of Beit Hanania are threatening to "leave their homes" if the decision is carried out.
Thursday's decision was made by Transportation Ministry Director-General Alex Langer and the director of the Interior Ministry's planning authority, Binat Schwartz.
The decision has been sent to the national infrastructure committee, which is reviewing plans to upgrade and expand the highway from the Netanya junction to the Zichron Yaakov junction. The plan will be finalized in another few months; the public will then have 30 days to submit objections.
Most of the land designated for annexation now belongs to Beit Hanania; smaller portions belong to two affluent communities, Caesarea and Ma'agan Michael.
It is expected that these Jewish communities, which belong to the Hof Hacarmel Regional Council, will file objections. Council officials said on Sunday they will respond to the rerouting decision once they receive a copy of it.
In August, deputy council head Modi Bracha said that if "the government decides to reroute the highway and annex land, I would think the residents would hire the best lawyers" to object to such a plan. Residents of Beit Hanania announced that if the plan goes through they would leave their homes and the region would be deserted.
"The proximity to Jisr al-Zarqa that will be created by this plan will cause our moshav to collapse," Beit Hanania official Aryeh Friedman told Haaretz in August.
"We're in favor of coexistence and peace, and though there are different ways of thinking, we do a lot of work for coexistence. We don't oppose [the annexation plan] because they're Arabs. They're very good neighbors, and we don't have any dispute with them. The rerouting of Highway 2 will bring them here; meanwhile, our assets, both regarding real estate values and the quality of life, will be harmed."
Originally, the Transportation Ministry opposed the rerouting plan, which is expected to add hundreds of millions of shekels to the cost of upgrading the coastal highway.
Ministry officials and Jewish residents have proposed that the town be expanded on the other side of the highway, or that taller buildings be built in the town.
"We're thrilled with this decision," Jisr al-Zarqa Mayor Azadin Amash said Sunday. "We suffer from a huge shortage of land and public buildings for education and other purposes. And there's a glaring need for more land. After three years of discussions with the planning authority, officials there finally understand our needs. I hope the decision will be implemented as soon as possible."
Regarding possible objections to the plan, Amash said that "people have the right to object. I assume that some will object, but that won't help them. When officials decided to annex land to Or Akiva, residents from Binyamina complained to the High Court, to no avail."
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