A plan for the construction of a new interchange between Jerusalemand Ma’aleh Adumim is expected to be approved on Thursday. The plan was cleared Wednesday by the Jerusalem Local Planning and Building Committee, and is expected to be approved by the District Planning and Building Committee on Thursday.
The plan’s opponents say that the new interchange, to be called the Hazeitim (Olives) interchange, will help to connect West Bank settlements in the Mateh Binyamin and Samaria regions with Jerusalem, and will also enable Israel to build sometime in the future a new neighborhood in the disputed E-1 area.
The plan to be brought for approval is the final stage in the construction of an interchange that will link the Eastern Ring Road – a traffic artery extending from the north to the south of East Jerusalem and leading from the settlements of Almon and Geva Binyamin – with Route 1, which descends from Jerusalem to the Dead Sea. The interchange will also enable a direct connection between the Eastern Ring Road and the Mount Scopus tunnel, which is named after poet-songwriter Naomi Shemer, and will thus facilitate direct entry into Jerusalem.
It will make life much easier for vehicular traffic from West Bank settlements to enter the capital because drivers will be able to bypass northern Jerusalem and the Hizme checkpoint, where traffic jams are a common problem every morning.
The planned new interchange will enable Palestinian vehicular traffic to use the same highway as the settlers, although in different lanes separated by a high wall.
Officials in the Jerusalem municipality claimed yesterday that the plan was merely intended to be the final stage in the construction of a roadway section from the interchange that will provide residents of the Palestinian neighborhood of A-Tur with a convenient travel route to Jerusalem. However, the explanation accompanying the plan states that it is the final stage in “the existing interchange between the Mount Scopus road and the Eastern Ring Road.”
The backbone of this complex network of highways is the Eastern Ring Road, which, in the section including the Hazeitim Interchange, will feature a high concrete wall that will form a section of the separation barrier and allot separate sections of the highway to Palestinian and Israeli drivers.
This is the only highway in the West Bank that will have a separation wall running right down the middle. For that reason, the plan’s opponents are already dubbing it “Apartheid Road.”
The Palestinian section of the roadway is intended to provide a convenient and faster route for Palestinian drivers traveling from the northern part of the West Bank to its southern part; they will not be hindered by any roadblocks and will be able to bypass Jerusalem altogether.
The idea of the interchange was first raised by former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who wanted to prove to the Palestinians and the American administration that construction in E-1 would not necessarily split the West Bank in two and hamper the territorial contiguity of a future Palestinian state. Thus, the leaders of the left-wing camp in Israel, who are following the progress of the complex network of highways in the West Bank, are assuming that the plan is intended to enable Israel to build in E-1, where construction plans have been halted because of international pressure.
Nevertheless, in the face of American pressure, Israel is not expected to construct anything in E-1 in the near future; thus, at this stage, the new highway is expected to be open for Jewish vehicular traffic. Signs directing drivers to Geva Binyamin have already been posted on Route 1.
Ir Amim, an NGO dedicated to the goal of “an Equitable and Stable Jerusalem with an Agreed Political Future,” yesterday attacked the plan. “The Hazeitim Interchange is but one more component in the government’s plan to realize its goal of annexing the blocs of West Bank settlements to Jerusalem while turning its back on the possibility of a political solution,” a representative of the group said.
The new interchange will form part of an entire network of highways that are currently being constructed around Jerusalem and are intended to considerably ease traffic flow between the capital and the settlements in its vicinity. Work is progressing on a highway that will make it easier for drivers from the Gush Etzion settlement bloc and the southern part of the West Bank to reach Jerusalem.
Route 20 and an interchange named after Professor Benzion Netanyahu, the late father of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, that were recently inaugurated will make it easier for settlers from the northern part of the West Bank to enter Jerusalem.