IDF Paving Roads for Palestinians

Three organizations are busy renovating, upgrading and improving roads in the West Bank in response to the transportation problems created by the Israel Defense Forces barriers and the diversion of Palestinian vehicles to secondary roads. The transportation problems, which are having severe economic and social effects, were described extensively Haaretz this past Monday and Friday.

These three groups are the Palestinian Authority, the IDF and Palestinian local councils. They are not coordinating their repairs or construction, although the PA and the local councils need Israeli approval for works outside of Area A.

In recent months the IDF has revised its plan to create a system of roads for contiguous Palestinian traffic. Military sources say this comes from the desire to enable the best possible quality of life for Palestinians. Palestinian sources say the IDF has not officially informed the PA of the new plan.

Unlike the plan that the defense establishment submitted to the World Bank and the donor countries about a year and a half ago - which spoke of creating two separate road systems in the West Bank, one for Israelis and one for Palestinians - the current plan, formulated during the past six months, does not call for roads closed to Palestinian traffic. Palestinian transportation will be allowed to access - via IDF checkpoints - about 20 percent of the roads in use by Israelis in the West Bank, the military sources say.

But this plan is intended to create a separate north-south transportation continuum for Palestinians in the West Bank.

"The roadblocks in the Judea and Samaria area," a military source told Haaretz, "are an operational necessity that derives from the fact that the Palestinians transport terror from region to region." According to the source, 518 terrorists were captured at checkpoints in 2005.

However, he said, "It is clear to us that the checkpoints make everyday life very difficult. This gave rise to the idea of enabling Palestinians to travel on 80 percent of the roads accessible to them without having to pass through permanent checkpoints, enabling them to get to Dahariya from Jenin in a reasonable amount of time."

The plan, which has not been entirely approved, consists of three types of roads: parallel roads to those that serve Israeli transportation; roads resulting from the construction of the separation fence; and roads that improve Palestinian transportation. The plan was prepared by the Central Command department for strategic and spatial planning. It is headed by Colonel Danny Tirza.

According to a military source, the plan is not new. It is based on a 1997 plan for paving roads for Israeli transportation, which would not go through Area B. Now, for the first time, the defense establishment is preparing and funding a road network for the Palestinians as well. The network seeks both to meet security needs and solve transportation problems.

This involves 140 kilometers (out of a total of approximately 2,000 kilometers of roads in the West Bank) spread over 34 roads. The plan, says a military source, is based on the principle of "separation of traffic levels" - achieved via 12 overpasses. Six of them have already been built. They enable Israeli to travel on the fast, elevated roads "without feeling the Palestinian traffic below, while there is no interference with the Palestinian traffic, because it has a transportation solution."

Seven roads and access roads have been improved as part of the separation fence project, replacing direct access roads that the fence has cut off. Five roads are under construction and another 11 are slated to be improved, also due to the separation fence. Another 11 roads are planned, independent of the fence.

Some of the roads under construction or in planning stages are aimed at diverting Palestinian traffic from the centers of crowded villages, thus creating a network of roads between areas, says the military source.

The Jerusalem bypass road, which was formulated by the Central Command planning department, is being constructed with a $140 million investment. It will bypass Wadi Nar, which today is the only connection between the northern and southern West Bank, a narrow and steep road that in some parts runs through the crowded alleys of Abu Dis and Suwahra.

According to the military sources, it was not the international opposition to the previous plan for two separate systems that brought about the change, but rather a debate between two security doctrines. The prevailing doctrine holds that it is more secure to allow Palestinian vehicles to travel on roads where Israelis travel.