State whitewashing construction plans between Jerusalem and Maaleh Adumim
by Nir Hasson Haaretz ist January 2012
Last week, a new border crossing was opened in East Jerusalem's Shoafat neighborhood, to little fanfare. Two days later, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat asserted that Israel should relinquish Palestinian neighborhoods of the capital that are beyond the separation barrier, despite the fact that their residents carry Israeli identity cards.
Some people view these events as two pieces of the same puzzle. A third piece is the resumption of work on separate roads for Israelis and Palestinians between Jerusalem and the West Bank settlement of Ma'aleh Adumim.
Cars waiting in line, sometimes for hours, at the new Shoafat checkpoint terminal in East Jerusalem.
|Photo by: Michal Fattal|
Put the pieces together, and you get a picture of Israel erecting, at enormous expense, a major system of roads and checkpoints that would allow for the total separation of Palestinians and Israelis while also enabling the construction of Mevasseret Adumim, a neighborhood that would connect Ma'aleh Adumim to Jerusalem.
The new crossing at Shoafat, which replaced the old military checkpoint, resembles a border terminal between two countries more than it does a security checkpoint. Its generous proportions include five lanes for vehicles and a lane for pedestrian traffic.
In the days leading up to and following the opening, an intolerable stench hung over the pristine terminal, testimony to the "skunk truck" and its cargo of liquid stink, which the Border Police used to drive away Palestinians demonstrating against the new crossing. But the protesters' efforts were in vain, and the terminal is operating according to plan. It may even improve the quality of life of Palestinian Jerusalemites living in and around Shoafat, by reducing their travel time to and from the rest of the city.
The Shoafat crossing joins other big crossings built in the Jerusalem area over the past several years. They mainly serve the 70,000 or so Palestinians with Israeli residency who were cut off from the city by the separation barrier. These neighborhoods turned into pockets of crime and anarchy, with no government and crumbling infrastructure. It is their inhabitants that Barkat wants to sever from his city.
"The municipal boundary of Jerusalem and the route of the separation fence must be identical to allow for proper administration of the city," Barkat told a conference at the National Security College last week.
On Thursday, the mayor's office announced a plan "for the municipality and the Civil Administration to trade responsibility for providing services to residents in the area between the security barrier and the municipal boundary." Until now, the Civil Administration's domain has been confined to the West Bank.
On the face of it, excising these areas would be relatively simple. Palestinians in East Jerusalem are Israeli residents because Israel defines their neighborhoods as part of Jerusalem; thus in theory, changing the city's municipal boundary would simultaneously cancel their residency. It would also do wonders for Jerusalem's demographic balance, from the perspective of the city's Jewish majority.
But anyone familiar with the situation knows it is not so simple. The announcement would be followed by a rapid migration into Jerusalem of tens of thousands of Palestinians who do not want to lose their residency, and the rights to receive social services and to work and study in Jerusalem that go with it.
"We are Jerusalemites, we're used to Jerusalem," said the director of a maternity hospital in Kafr Aqab, which lies on the other side of the separation fence. "If something like that happens, everyone will want to move to within the city. People will live on the street if they have to."
Some observers view the Shoafat terminal and Barkat's recent remarks as just a small part of the broader picture being sketched out in Jerusalem's West Bank hinterlands. According to Col. (res. ) Shaul Arieli, a member of the Council for Peace and Security and one of the leaders of the Geneva Initiative, the Israeli government is spending hundreds of millions of shekels on plans to establish Mevasseret Adumim in the area known as E1.
Roads, electricity lines, traffic circles and lots for development have already been put in place in E1. Everything needed for the neighborhood's construction is there, but because of American pressure, all work in the area halted in 2007. Both the Americans and the Palestinians claim that building in E1 would in effect cut the West Bank into two sections and make it impossible to establish a Palestinian state with any kind of reasonable territorial contiguity.
Arieli and others argue that Israel seeks to solve the problem by means of an advanced traffic control system that would provide rapid travel between Ramallah and Bethlehem on one hand and between Ma'aleh Adumim and Jerusalem on the other. In the last few months, work was resumed on this road system in two places: the new access road to Ma'aleh Adumim, and in the vicinity of Metzudat Adumim, where a few years ago a highway was built with a wall in the middle - the eastern side for settlers, the western side for Palestinians.
The roads meet up at Hazeitim Interchange, on the Jerusalem-Ma'aleh Adumim road. The interchange, which is nearly complete, is designed to fulfill three purposes: to enable people from Ma'aleh Adumim to reach the capital without having to stop at a checkpoint; to enable settlers from the northern West Bank to do the same, and to enable Palestinian travel between the northern and southern parts of the West Bank.
That final point will enable Israel to claim that building in E1 does not harm Palestinian territorial contiguity. "They're preparing the ground for this possibility," Arieli said. "It's not clear when they'll decide to carry it out. But it's enough for there to be a terror attack on the road: They'll close the road and say it's for reasons of security.
"This [road] complex is burning through a sea of money and a sea of people to serve a plan based on a delusional working assumption: that [East] Jerusalem will remain under our sovereignty, and greater Ma'aleh Adumim, including E1, will as well," Arieli added.
According to Ahmad Sub Laban, who works for the non-profit organization Ir Amim, the only way the roads system could be understood is that it serves to enable the division of the West Bank.
"They did not build it in order to divide the West Bank, they built it to maintain the territorial contiguity between Ma'ale Adumim and Jerusalem and to give the settlers a road to Jerusalem without any checkpoints. In practice, they divided the West Bank into two," he said.
EU voices protest over Israeli policies in East Jerusalem, West Bank
EU Ambassador tells foreign ministry EU concerned evacuation and demolition is part plan to expand Ma'aleh Adumim in the E1 area and asked for clarifications.
By Barak Ravid 1st January 2012
A day after the four European Union members of the UN Security Council strongly criticized Israel's decision to speed up construction of settlements, tension between the parties appears to be rising.
EU Ambassador to Israel Andrew Standley on Thursday submitted a formal protest to the Foreign Ministry over evacuating Bedouins and tearing down Palestinians' houses in the E1 area near the West Bank settlement Ma'aleh Adumim.
A road near the West Bank settlement of Ma'aleh Adumim.
|Photo by: Shaul Arieli|
Standley told Raphael Schutz, who heads the Foreign Ministry's European desk, that the EU was concerned that the evacuation and demolition was part of preparations to expand the settlement of Ma'aleh Adumim in the E1 area and asked for clarifications.
He also expressed profound concern over the deterioration in the Palestinian residents' situation in the West Bank's C areas, which are under Israel's security control. He cited the rise in the number of houses demolished by the Civil Administration.
The E1 area is located between Ma'aleh Adumim and Jerusalem. For the past several years Israel has been planning to build a neighborhood there called "Mevasseret Adumim," with the intention of creating Jewish urban contiguity and strengthen its hold in East Jerusalem. The United States strongly objects to building the neighborhood, for fear it cuts the West Bank in two and severs off East Jerusalem, thwarting the chances of reaching a final status arrangement and establishing a Palestinian state.
A senior European diplomat said the EU's 27 foreign ministers had decided on the protest Standley submitted on Thursday at their last meeting some two weeks ago. The European foreign ministers received a report compiled by the European consuls in Ramallah and East Jerusalem on the situation of the Palestinians in Area C of the West Bank, which is under full Israeli control. The report cited a rise in the number of Palestinian houses torn down by the Israeli authorities and the growing economic distress of the Palestinians living in Area C.
They have also received information from human rights organizations saying Israel is planning to evacuate some 2,500 Bedouins of the Jahalin tribe from their residence in the E1 area near Ma'aleh Adumim to the garbage removal site near the village of Abu Dis. This information raised the suspicion that Israel was preparing the ground to expand Ma'aleh Adumim.
About two weeks ago, European Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response Kristalina Georgieva sent Defense Minister Ehud Barak a letter expressing deep concern over Israel's acts in Area C, especially regarding the evacuation of the Bedouins from the E1 area. The European commissioner wrote she feared the Bedouins' evacuation was intended to enable Ma'aleh Adumim's expansion and the construction of a new neighborhood on the site.
Georgieva visited Israel more than six months ago and met Barak and the coordinator of government activities in the territories, Brigadier-General Eitan Dangot. A defense source said Dangot has been approached by several foreign officials in recent weeks about the Bedouins' evacuation from the E1 area. However Dangot made it clear to everyone he spoke to that the activity was merely a preliminary examination in a bid to regulate the Bedouins' living areas in the West Bank, and there was no intention to evacuate them in the near future.
"There is a huge gap between what the Europeans think is happening here and reality," the defense source said. "We're dealing with preliminary work. No one is being evacuated at this stage and there is no Israeli conspiracy or plot. Israel is a state of proper conduct, and when we have plans we will not conceal them from anyone and update the international bodies," he said.
The source added there was no connection between the possible evacuation of the Bedouins living in the E1 area and the beginning of construction there. "There are no construction permits there at all and the issue isn't on the defense minister's table," he said.
Meanwhile, the conflict that erupted between Israel and Britain, France, Germany and Portugal following the Foreign Ministry's harsh statement on Wednesday has become an internal conflict in the cabinet as well.
On Thursday, Defense Minister Ehud Barak criticized the Foreign Ministry for saying the "bickering" of EU members of the UN Security Council over Israeli settlement was making them "irrelevant."
"I don't think our statement will make these countries irrelevant," Barak told Israel Radio. "European countries are very relevant ... and they stand with us at important times."
He added that the countries should be told they are mistaken, but Israel should continue cooperating with them and refrain from conflicts.