Israel's Transportation Ministry Earmarks $57 Million for West Bank Roads

The 24 infrastructure projects include new roads between settlements, the beginning of a West Bank train system, and a Jordan Valley pedestrian bridge for Palestinians.

Nir Kafri

The Transportation Ministry is planning major infrastructure projects in the West Bank with construction set to start in the next few years. The various transportation projects are expected to cost more than 200 million shekels ($57 million), but that figure does not include a number of projects that have yet to be budgeted for.

MK Omer Bar-Lev (Labor) recently approached Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz for information about his ministry's activity in the West Bank, bringing to light plans for 18 projects that already have budget allocations, and six more that are still in initial planning phases.

Bar-Lev, an MK in the opposition, criticized the plans, saying they "cast doubt on Prime Minister [Benjamin Netanyahu]'s true willingness to reach a peace agreement."

The largest and most significant of the projects is the planned improvement to the Adam-Hizme road, a narrow, winding and dangerous thoroughfare used by settlers to travel north out of Jerusalem, and by Palestinians to travel between Ramallah and Bethlehem. There is always heavy traffic on the road, and it has been the scene of many fatal accidents. Making improvements to this road alone will cost 66 million shekels. Local settlers have been aggressively pushing for roadwork there in recent years.

Other roads set for renovation include the road from Kokhav Yaakov to Psagot, at a cost of 11 million shekels; a road in Etz Efraim, at a cost of 5 million shekels; a road to Kalya, which will cost 3.8 million shekels; as well as an intersection for the entrance for Brukhin. There is also one project in the works that is meant to benefit Palestinians - a pedestrian bridge over Route 90, the main highway in the Jordan Valley. Addtionally, eight of the projects are designed to improve road safety.

The last six projects are still in their initial planning phases and they include a new road leading to Modi’in Illit, as well as an detour for Israelis on the way between Bethlehem to Hebron, meant to avoid specific spots where stone-throwing by Palestinians has been prevalent. In addition, Katz allocating resources to plan a West Bank-wide train system totaling 492 kilometers of track, including a detailed scheme for a line to Ariel.

Bar-Lev said the plans reflect a set of priorities at odds with Israel's best interests.

"Through his ministers, the prime minister is paving costly roads that totally contradict Israel’s national interests, instead of paving a path toward separation from the Palestinians," Bar-Lev said. "Money that is being poured into the Yitzhar and Itamar cannot then go to Yeruham and Dimona," referring to the difference between settlement in the West Bank and towns in Israel's periphery. "That’s the balance, and the truth that this government talks about separation and closing the gaps by day, but then builds more settlements and creates more gaps by night.”