Last week, a new border crossing was opened in East Jerusalem's Shoafat neighborhood, to little fanfare. Two days later, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat asserted that Israel should relinquish Palestinian neighborhoods of the capital that are beyond the separation barrier, despite the fact that their residents carry Israeli identity cards.
Some people view these events as two pieces of the same puzzle. A third piece is the resumption of work on separate roads for Israelis and Palestinians between Jerusalem and the West Bank settlement of Ma'aleh Adumim.
Put the pieces together, and you get a picture of Israel erecting, at enormous expense, a major system of roads and checkpoints that would allow for the total separation of Palestinians and Israelis while also enabling the construction of Mevasseret Adumim, a neighborhood that would connect Ma'aleh Adumim to Jerusalem.
The new crossing at Shoafat, which replaced the old military checkpoint, resembles a border terminal between two countries more than it does a security checkpoint. Its generous proportions include five lanes for vehicles and a lane for pedestrian traffic.
In the days leading up to and following the opening, an intolerable stench hung over the pristine terminal, testimony to the "skunk truck" and its cargo of liquid stink, which the Border Police used to drive away Palestinians demonstrating against the new crossing. But the protesters' efforts were in vain, and the terminal is operating according to plan. It may even improve the quality of life of Palestinian Jerusalemites living in and around Shoafat, by reducing their travel time to and from the rest of the city.
The Shoafat crossing joins other big crossings built in the Jerusalem area over the past several years. They mainly serve the 70,000 or so Palestinians with Israeli residency who were cut off from the city by the separation barrier. These neighborhoods turned into pockets of crime and anarchy, with no government and crumbling infrastructure. It is their inhabitants that Barkat wants to sever from his city.
"The municipal boundary of Jerusalem and the route of the separation fence must be identical to allow for proper administration of the city," Barkat told a conference at the National Security College last week.
On Thursday, the mayor's office announced a plan "for the municipality and the Civil Administration to trade responsibility for providing services to residents in the area between the security barrier and the municipal boundary." Until now, the Civil Administration's domain has been confined to the West Bank.
On the face of it, excising these areas would be relatively simple. Palestinians in East Jerusalem are Israeli residents because Israel defines their neighborhoods as part of Jerusalem; thus in theory, changing the city's municipal boundary would simultaneously cancel their residency. It would also do wonders for Jerusalem's demographic balance, from the perspective of the city's Jewish majority.
But anyone familiar with the situation knows it is not so simple. The announcement would be followed by a rapid migration into Jerusalem of tens of thousands of Palestinians who do not want to lose their residency, and the rights to receive social services and to work and study in Jerusalem that go with it.
"We are Jerusalemites, we're used to Jerusalem," said the director of a maternity hospital in Kafr Aqab, which lies on the other side of the separation fence. "If something like that happens, everyone will want to move to within the city. People will live on the street if they have to."
Some observers view the Shoafat terminal and Barkat's recent remarks as just a small part of the broader picture being sketched out in Jerusalem's West Bank hinterlands. According to Col. (res. ) Shaul Arieli, a member of the Council for Peace and Security and one of the leaders of the Geneva Initiative, the Israeli government is spending hundreds of millions of shekels on plans to establish Mevasseret Adumim in the area known as E1.
Roads, electricity lines, traffic circles and lots for development have already been put in place in E1. Everything needed for the neighborhood's construction is there, but because of American pressure, all work in the area halted in 2007. Both the Americans and the Palestinians claim that building in E1 would in effect cut the West Bank into two sections and make it impossible to establish a Palestinian state with any kind of reasonable territorial contiguity.
Arieli and others argue that Israel seeks to solve the problem by means of an advanced traffic control system that would provide rapid travel between Ramallah and Bethlehem on one hand and between Ma'aleh Adumim and Jerusalem on the other. In the last few months, work was resumed on this road system in two places: the new access road to Ma'aleh Adumim, and in the vicinity of Metzudat Adumim, where a few years ago a highway was built with a wall in the middle - the eastern side for settlers, the western side for Palestinians.
The roads meet up at Hazeitim Interchange, on the Jerusalem-Ma'aleh Adumim road. The interchange, which is nearly complete, is designed to fulfill three purposes: to enable people from Ma'aleh Adumim to reach the capital without having to stop at a checkpoint; to enable settlers from the northern West Bank to do the same, and to enable Palestinian travel between the northern and southern parts of the West Bank.
That final point will enable Israel to claim that building in E1 does not harm Palestinian territorial contiguity. "They're preparing the ground for this possibility," Arieli said. "It's not clear when they'll decide to carry it out. But it's enough for there to be a terror attack on the road: They'll close the road and say it's for reasons of security.
"This [road] complex is burning through a sea of money and a sea of people to serve a plan based on a delusional working assumption: that [East] Jerusalem will remain under our sovereignty, and greater Ma'aleh Adumim, including E1, will as well," Arieli added.
According to Ahmad Sub Laban, who works for the non-profit organization Ir Amim, the only way the roads system could be understood is that it serves to enable the division of the West Bank.
"They did not build it in order to divide the West Bank, they built it to maintain the territorial contiguity between Ma'ale Adumim and Jerusalem and to give the settlers a road to Jerusalem without any checkpoints. In practice, they divided the West Bank into two," he said.
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