Cabinet Due to Again Approve Controversial Section of West Bank Barrier

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Palestinians want the terraces of Batir designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Credit: Michal Fattal

During its weekly meeting on Sunday, the government is expected to again approve the construction of the West Bank separation barrier in the vicinity of the village of Batir, near Bethlehem.

The course of the barrier will be the same as that originally approved, which was opposed by the Nature and Parks Authority and criticized by UNESCO as endangering ancient terraces.

The residents of the Gush Etzion settlement bloc also oppose the construction, believing that it will leave them on the far side of the barrier.

A legal battle over the construction of the barrier has been waged for the past seven years. Among the opponents of the barrier are the residents of Batir, who maintain that the barrier will destroy both the landscape and their unique traditional irrigation system, the residents of the Gush Etzion bloc, who are opposed to a fence in the area, the parks authority and the Friends of the Earth organization.

The ministry of defense, which is promoting construction of the barrier, maintains that the damage to the terraces will be minimal and that the irrigation system will not be affected.

In an emergency move last June, the UNESCO World Heritage Committee decided to recognize Batir as an endangered world heritage site. As a result, High Court President Asher Grunis ordered the government to review its decision to build the barrier in the Batir area in light of its diplomatic implications. Sunday's discussion is a response to Grunis' ruling.

According to the draft resolution that will be placed before the government, the original path of the barrier will be approved again, despite the potential damage to terraces. The resolution notes that the UNESCO decision was taken in Qatar, with the support of countries such as Algeria, Qatar, Lebanon, Malaysia and Turkey, and was contrary to the opinion of a UNESCO professional group which stated that the Batir terraces do not meet the criteria required for recognition of an endangered world heritage site.

"The draft resolution presents the whole thing as a political problem of bad Arabs but pays no attention to the fact that the parks authority, a state body, takes the same position as UNESCO," said Yaron Rosenthal, head of the Kfar Etzion field school.

"If they were to say that it was an issue of considerations of nature versus security considerations and they decided in favor of security, I would accept it. But that's not the case. There has been no discussion, no assessment of consequences and it will cost hundreds of millions of shekels."

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