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Israel has invested close to NIS 200 million during the past two years in preparing infrastructure for construction of housing units to create a contiguous block between Ma'aleh Adumim and East Jerusalem.

The neighborhood of Mevaseret Adumim, slated to be built on Area E1, has so far not been built because of strong American opposition. However the construction of a police base in May 2008 opened a window for massive construction in the area.

It is doubtful all this construction was meant to serve several hundred policemen and civilians traveling to the headquarters daily. The building of the police station, which was done with all required permits, appears to have been a necessary stage in the "claiming" of A1 ahead of constructing residential neighborhoods there.

"Ma'aleh Adumim is an inalienable part of Jerusalem and the State of Israel in any permanent settlement," read a statement from the office of Defense Minister Ehud Barak. "E1 is a corridor that connects Ma'aleh Adumim to Mount Scopus and therefore it is important for it to remain part of the country. This is the position of Labor since Yitzhak Rabin and also of the government of Barak in 1999, and the Americans know this position."

Point of contention

The recent visit to Israel of George Mitchell, the former Senator returning for another turn as special U.S. envoy to the Middle East, was described in Israel as having been 'not too bad.'

Mitchell, whom news reports described as wary of Israel and perhaps even hostile toward it, opted not to begin his new mission with a direct confrontation with his hosts. But the Israeli leadership understands clearly that it will be difficult to benefit from such leniency with the Obama administration for very long after the elections. Some of the potential points of tension between Israel and the United States were put in place during the tenure of the Kadima-Labor government.

The most blatant example is Area E1, 12,000 dunam north of Route 1, between Jerusalem and Ma'aleh Adumim. The Ma'aleh Adumim Municipality is planning to build 3,500 housing units there which, in an official statement, will constitute "contiguous construction between our city to the capital Jerusalem and will be the Zionist response that will prevent the division of Jerusalem and the dislocation of Ma'aleh Adumim and Gush Adumim from the capital of Israel."

The other side of the coin, of course, is that this sort of contiguity will prevent Palestinian construction between East Jerusalem to Ramallah, and will make it difficult to reach agreement between Israel and the Palestinians on the question of permanent borders. This is why the U.S. has strongly opposed this sort of Israeli construction for more than a decade. Israeli governments have avoided construction in this area, mostly because of U.S. pressure.

E1 was included into the territory of Ma'aleh Adumim as early as 1994 and in May 1999, during the transition period between the government of Netanyahu to that of Barak, the Supreme Planning Committee approved the construction plan, however it has been unable to implement it because more permits are required, including from the Defense Minister.

A tour of Area E1 with Col. (res.) Shaul Arieli, a member of the Peace and Security Council, revealed that in the past two years there has been enormous infrastructure construction in the area. Last May, the Judea and Samaria Police headquarters was built atop a hill, where it had moved from the neighborhood of Ras al-Amud. Even though it is a relatively small complex inside a huge area, a very large system of roads has already been completed, including an overpass, highways (some three lanes wide), traffic circles, lighting, observation posts, fences and a dividing barrier on the highway. The cost of this construction is estimated at NIS 100 million.

In addition, a road was built from the village of Hizma al-Za'im east of Jerusalem that is meant to allow Palestinian traffic from Jerusalem to Ramallah, bypassing E1. The contractor who built the road, which has not yet been opened to traffic, said on a Channel 10 interview two months ago that approximately NIS 120 million had been invested.

Arieli said that this was an example of the way Israel has been negotiating with the Palestinians. He argues that on the one hand the negotiations, including the ones under Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, had made clear the areas of agreement between the two sides on a final settlement. The agreement is that it may include Ma'aleh Adumim but not its satellite areas, and certainly not any construction in Area E1.

On the other hand, "they are pouring enormous funds in the area to the point that it creates a reality that contradicts reaching an agreement," he said. "Either the government is consciously wasting public funds, or it is consciously undermining the chances for a permanent settlement."

"Ma'aleh Adumim will remain part of the State of Israel in any future peace agreement," a spokesman from the office of Kadima chair Livni said. "Any relevant issue will be discussed as part of the negotiations."