Israel Railways has prepared a major plan for providing train service throughout the West Bank to serve both Israelis and Palestinians.
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The plan, prepared at the request of Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz, calls for establishing 11 new rail lines, according to a map that Haaretz has obtained. Katz has on several occasions expressed his intention to build a railway network in the West Bank.
Except for the proposed line from Rosh Ha'ayin to the West Bank settlement of Ariel, the prospects for actually carrying out the entire scheme are seen as slim. There are diplomatic, legal and budgetary hurdles involved, as well as a need for cooperation with the Palestinian Authority, which administers large areas of the West Bank.
No target date has been set for implementing the plan and no cost estimate has been presented, although the sums involved would clearly be substantial.
The Transportation Ministry confirmed that it was pursuing the plan for the new rail lines "so as to permit it to be carried out in the future," and in accordance with "a legal commitment the ministry made to the High Court of Justice."
In a visit to the northern part of the West Bank in 2010, Katz promised to revive the pre-state Ottoman and British Mandate-era rail line there with establishment of service between the city of Jenin and Afula in the Jezreel Valley. Katz also allocated NIS 3 million to plan a line from the Israeli town of Rosh Ha'ayin, northeast of Tel Aviv, to Nablus in the northern West Bank. Detailed plans were drawn up for the first part of that line - from Rosh Ha'ayin to Ariel.
Last December, at an event at which Katz was honored by the Yesha Council of West Bank Jewish settlements, he said he had instructed Israel Railways management to expedite the planning of the rail lines.
According to the map that Haaretz obtained, the proposal calls for 475 kilometers of rail lines. For purposes of comparison, the combined length of existing routes in Israel proper is currently 1,100 kilometers.
The West Bank network would include one line running through Jenin, Nablus, Ramallah, Jerusalem, Ma'aleh Adumim, Bethlehem and Hebron. Another would provide service along the Jordanian border from Eilat to the Dead Sea, Jericho and Beit She'an and from there toward Haifa in the west and in also in a northeasterly direction. The proposed scheme also calls for shorter routes, such as between Nablus and Tul Karm in the West Bank, and from Ramallah to the Allenby Bridge crossing into Jordan.
Israel Railways hired engineer Gidon Yerushalmi, to the tune of NIS 1 million, to develop the West Bank master plan. Yerushalmi's firm has previously worked on other such projects.
A preliminary document on the project explains that its aim is to "address the transportation needs of local residents and other passengers."
The plan also includes infrastructure that would connect the rail lines at a later stage to lines in the Gaza Strip and in Arab countries. An emphasis is being place on "continuity between the rail network within the Green Line [Israel's 1967 borders] and the planned network in Judea and Samaria."
The map obtained by Haaretz was presented in December to the top planning council of the Israel Defense Forces' Civil Administration. (Because the West Bank has not been formerly annexed to Israel, the IDF has general administrative authority there.)
At the time, the members of the Civil Administration's council appeared to give serious consideration to the plan. There was discussion, for example, of a tunnel under Nablus as part of the proposal.
For his part, the council chairman, Shlomo Moshkovitz, noted that the plan calls for rail lines through areas under partial or total control of the Palestinian Authority. The Palestinians can be expected to object, Moshkovitz said, and the plan is "without value without their approval."