How Israel Is Expanding Jerusalem to Neighboring Settlement

Despite concerns for the international ramifications of annexing Ma'aleh Adumim, there's talk of several projects which could create a 'mental' proximity between the two cities.

Construction in the settlement of Ma'aleh Adumim in the West Bank, March 16, 2017.
Olivier Fitoussi

Any attempt to undertake construction in the area known as E1, which separates Jerusalem and the settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim in the West Bank, is like a red rag to the international community. Even these days, in the Trump era, when initiatives for annexing Ma’aleh Adumim keep appearing on the political agenda, the government seems to be very cautious with regard to expanding the settlement in the direction of Jerusalem in a way that would create territorial contiguity between the two.

Nevertheless, in recent weeks there has been talk of several projects which could create a “mental” proximity between the two cities. Despite increasing voices in the coalition calling for legal annexation of Ma'aleh Adumim, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is dragging his feet out of concern for the international ramifications of such a move. Promotion of these new projects, however, could strengthen the ties between Jerusalem and the settlement and pass quietly under the diplomatic radar.

For several weeks now, tractors have been working along Highway 1, which leads to Ma’aleh Adumim, just outside the city. They are busy constructing a new interchange which will provide easier access to Jerusalem for Ma’aleh Adumim residents. The non-profit Ir Amim organization says that this interchange is critical for future construction in E1, since it will serve as an alternative route for Palestinian traffic between the two cities. The plan for this interchange was approved in 2013.

An interchange from J’lem to Ma’aleh Adumim.
Olivier Fitoussi

The Jerusalem Municipality’s finance committee also approved the construction of a new tunnel at the French Hill intersection, which will greatly alleviate traffic congestion in that area. Traveling from Jerusalem’s northern neighborhoods and Ma’aleh Adumim into the city’s core will thus become much easier. The city says that both projects are part of an overall plan to improve traffic infrastructure in the city’s north.

In recent weeks demolition orders were issued for a Bedouin village lying along the highway. The houses there were built without permits decades ago and Israel has been trying to evacuate it for some time, and now intends to finally do so.

In addition, Jerusalem’s Planning and Construction Committee has approved a plan for open areas within and around the city. The plan calls for designating the slopes of Mount Scopus that face Ma’aleh Adumim as a national park to be further developed. East Jerusalem residents and left-wing activists claim that this plan is designed to prevent any expansion of nearby Palestinian neighborhoods.

“The right wing is trying to whitewash the E1 project by claiming that Ma’aleh Adumim lies within the national consensus,” says Aviv Tatarsky, a researcher at Ir Amim. “Building there will convert Ma’aleh Adumim from an Israeli negotiating point which could be part of a land swap with the Palestinians into a death blow for the two-state solution,” he says. “Investing billions in infrastructure there expresses a determination to foil such a solution. This involves the expulsion of thousands of Bedouin as well, while pretending to address the problems of nearby Arab neighborhoods. This is what makes continued Israeli rule over the Palestinians illegitimate,” he adds.

The city responded by saying that it was improving infrastructure to meet the needs of a growing city, and that these projects would improve traffic congestion in the northern parts of the city. Plans are also being prepared for Arab neighborhoods, said a municipality spokesman.

The Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar, December 2016.
Emil Salman