PA: Road system shows Israel intends to keep settlements
The map of alternate roads and passages for Palestinians only, which Israel asked the donor countries to finance, is consistent with the remarks made by the prime minister's adviser, Dov Weisglass, in a recent Haaretz interview. The map demonstrates that, after implementing the plan to disengage from Gaza and the northern West Bank, Israel plans to strengthen its hold on most of the territory of the West Bank and to leave the settlements intact (except for the four settlements in the Jenin area that are included in the disengagement plan). This is the conclusion reached by Palestinian Authority geographers working in the Palestinian Planning Ministry and the Negotiation Support Unit (NSU).
Israel proposed a system of 16 passages - overpasses and tunnels - as a technical solution that could enable the continued existence and expansion of all West Bank settlements by maintaining two separate transportation networks - one for Israelis and one for Palestinians.
The Palestinians would be promised a contiguous transportation system in a region corresponding to Area A and Area B, but this system would lack any economic logic. (This region constitutes less than half of the West Bank, does not include the Jordan Valley and is carved up with blocs of Jewish settlements.)
Besides lacking economic logic, the construction of two separate and parallel road systems also lacks logic from a transportation and environmental perspective.
The main roads that have naturally linked the cities of the West Bank for decades will become part of the road system servicing the settlements, linking even the smallest of them to Israel, and this will require the construction or upgrading of long and circuitous Palestinian roads.
The Dutch geographer Jan de Jong, an adviser to the support unit of the PLO's Negotiation Affairs Department, incorporated the planned Israeli passages in the map shown for the first time in Haaretz.
The department's first task has been to prepare working papers on the final status issues to be used by Palestinian negotiators in talks with Israel. The U.K.'s Adam Smith Institute is funding this project. The department's legal experts, who based their work partly on the maps and geographical analysis prepared by de Jong, also drafted the lawsuit against the separation fence that was submitted to the International Court of Justice in The Hague.
According to de Jong, the passages Israel is proposing would ensure that, in the framework of the disengagement plan, "all of the settlements in the West Bank, even the smallest of them, would be sustainable at the expense of the chances of a viable Palestinian state."
One of the passages proposed by Israel is near the small settlement of Negohot, in the southern part of the West Bank. Building a passage in this area would divert Palestinian traffic far from friction points with those traveling to Negohot and would facilitate the settlement's expansion, until it is effectively linked to other settlements or communities in Israel.
That is, the proposed transportation separation would enable Israel to continue to develop all of the settlements and to create Israeli territorial contiguity in the West Bank, while at the same time Israel could claim that it is fulfilling its promise to grant the Palestinians territorial contiguity.
According to de Jong's analysis and an analysis by the Palestinian Planning Ministry, the proposed passages would divert Palestinian transportation from the existing main roads - which would be perpetuated as roads for Israelis only - to secondary roads, including some that already exist and some that would need to be built. These roads would be less efficient, circuitous and have limited capacity.
Travel on these "Palestinian" roads would take longer and be more difficult. For example, de Jong's initial calculations indicate that travel time between Tul Karm and Nablus would be nearly doubled due to the routing of Palestinian traffic to secondary roads. Instead of a 40-minute ride over the existing 27-kilometer road, the trip would take 73 minutes and be over a hilly and circuitous secondary road of 40 kilometers. In a normal situation, the road between the two cities could have been upgraded to cut travel time to 22 minutes over a 28-kilometer stretch of highway.
According to de Jong's analysis, one of the most absurd examples would be the connection between the village of Bidia and the city of Salfit. The settlement of Ariel and the road leading to it would continue to block the regular 14-kilometer road linking these two Palestinian communities. Instead, the Palestinians would be forced to travel on an alternative and circuitous route of nearly 60 kilometers. This route will include several overpasses or underpasses between Alfei Menasheh and Kedumim, cross the city of Nablus and then head south again toward the proposed passages at Awarta and Hawara.
The system of roads, passages and settlement blocs in the Nablus area, de Jong says, encloses the city of Nablus like a wall, cutting it off from cities that depend on economic and social ties with it, such as Tul Karm, Qalqilyah and Salfit.
De Jong's assessment is that the passages would enable the Israel Defense Forces to remove many of the checkpoints manned by soldiers today, as well as many roadblocks at village entrances.
The official political status of the passages is still not clear but de Jong is convinced that Israel would be able to close them to Palestinian traffic at any given moment. This, says de Jong, is territorial contiguity via a "shoelace" that Israel could sever at any time.
The Habla passage, which has already been constructed, demonstrates this: All traffic through this passage can be blocked by closing a gate. In October, this passage was closed to Palestinian traffic for 17 days.
According to de Jong, the transportation plan would increase the effectiveness of Israel's control over Palestinian movement: passages instead of manned checkpoints and roadblocks of rubble between villages. At any given moment, the IDF could block all Palestinian movement from one area to another. However, the Qalandiyah checkpoint will not be dismantled, de Jong assumes, because it separates the northern West Bank and Jerusalem (including the broad region effectively annexed to it, from Givat Ze'ev to Ma'aleh Adumim).
The Palestinian Planning Ministry, on the other hand, is convinced the Israeli passage plan would require leaving in place most of the roadblocks (cement cubes, trenches or piles of rubble) that cut off Palestinian villages from main roads.
According to the ministry, leaving the roadblocks in place would be aimed at preventing Palestinian vehicles from entering "roads for Jews only."
The plan for passages and alternative roads that Israel asked the donor countries to finance was originally drafted as a response to the demand to lift the closure imposed on Palestinian areas, which constitutes the main obstacle to the revival of the Palestinian economy.
Perhaps, de Jong says, transportation contiguity offered by the plan would enable some very short-term economic recovery after four years in which entire regions were cut off from each other. But the system of alternative roads offered to the Palestinians, de Jong says, would raise the cost of Palestinian transportation and the marketing of Palestinian agricultural and industrial products.
This would have a negative impact on the chances of reviving and developing the Palestinian economy. On the "Jews-only" roads, Israeli merchants could easily transport Israeli products to Palestinian communities, at the expense of competitiveness of Palestinian goods.
According to Palestinian Planning Minister Dr. Ghassan al-Khatib, in the medium term, the system of long and circuitous roads would not enable suitable economic development.