The opening of the new road northeast of Jerusalem between Hizma and Zayem, which features separate lanes for Israelis and Palestinians, was greeted with almost total silence by the Israeli media, even though the road illustrates the government’s wanton spending in the West Bank and the Netanyahu government’s policy of pushing for annexation.
The road was planned as part of Jerusalem’s eastern ring road, but only this 3.7-kilometer section of the planned 15-kilometer road has been built, due to a February 2005 decision by the Ariel Sharon government to include the settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim on the Israeli side of the separation barrier. From the end of 2000, Palestinians have been banned from entering Israel, including Jerusalem - leaving the only link between Ramallah and Bethlehem along roads that crossed the area of Ma’aleh Adumim. Without a road connecting Ramallah and Bethlehem that was open to Palestinian traffic, the separation barrier would have blocked these routes and divided the West Bank in two.
The Sharon and Ehud Olmert governments rushed to build the road to create a travel alternative for the Palestinians – one that would meet the High Court of Justice’s test of proportionality – at a cost of 120 million shekels ($33 million), and it was completed in November 2007. But the road remained closed, due to the delays in the construction of the separation barrier and the road's checkpoint, which the police and the army could not agree on as each wanted the other to take responsibility for it, plus the fact that it affected only Palestinians, who would have to extend their travel time due to this road. The investment was abandoned for a decade to the forces of nature, which meant the state had to invest tens of millions shekels more to repair the road that was never used.
Building the road was also meant to pave the way for the construction of the Mevasseret Adumim neighborhood, also known as E1, which was planned to create a continuum of Jewish construction between Ma’aleh Adumim and the capital. But the E1 plan raised the ire of George W. Bush’s administration, given Palestinians claim that Israeli construction in E1 would partly cut off the northern West Bank from the southern part and make it more difficult to create a contiguous Palestinian state. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon promised that the neighborhood would not be built unless mutually agreed upon. Sharon kept his promise, but that didn’t stop him from going forward with the enormous infrastructure plans for E1. Israeli governments invested a quarter-billion shekels in building infrastructure for a neighborhood that doesn’t have a single home. Since the infrastructure was completed, Netanyahu's governments have spent tens of millions of shekels maintaining them.
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Indeed, the road that was opened will considerably shorten the travel time for Palestinians between Bethlehem and Ramallah, and will even improve the safety of their journey. It will substantially improve access to Jerusalem from the Mateh Binyamin settlements. It may even lead to the removal of the A-Zaim checkpoint, which slows the traffic from Ma’aleh Adumim into Jerusalem.
However, there is no truth to the declarations by Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz that the road will bring a “strengthening of metropolitan Jerusalem.” Apparently the minister chose to ignore that in metropolitan Jerusalem, between Nablus and Hebron, 90 percent of the people are Palestinians who aren’t allowed to enter Jerusalem.
This road is also a major step toward realizing the proposals made by members of the Knesset Land of Israel Caucus to annex the Ma’aleh Adumim district, which have the support of many ministers, most prominently Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked.
Given the absence of American responsibility and the weakness of the European Union, the opening of the road may encourage the right-wing government to move from “creeping annexation” to actual annexation by passing the proposed Ma’aleh Adumim annexation bill. This move, which would violate the fragile status quo, could never be accepted by the Palestinian Authority, even under the moderate and nonviolent policy of PA President Mahmoud Abbas. Abbas will not be able to withstand the pressure that will come from “the street,” from the Tanzim, from the ranks of Fatah, from the various fronts in the PLO and Hamas. Israel could expect serious political, security, economic and legal repercussions. But Bennett, Shaked and their colleagues believe that none of this will happen, because the world will remain indifferent, or because it needs Waze and cherry tomatoes.
Dr. Shaul Arieli’s book, “All Israel’s Borders,” was recently published by Aliyat Hagag/Yedioth Books.