Defense Minister Naftali Bennett announced on Monday that he had ordered his office to advance planning of a highway for Palestinian motorists that will remove them from the controversial E1 area — a section of the West Bank between Jerusalem and Ma’aleh Adumim — where Israel is moving forward with construction for settlers in steps toward annexation.
Bennett’s office said that the road for Palestinians, dubbed the “sovereignty road,” will connect the villages north of the Ma’ale Adumim settlement — A’zaim, Anata, Hizme and a-Ram — to one another.
“It allows Palestinian vehicles to move without crossing inside the Ma’aleh Adumim bloc, near Jewish communities,” the Defense Ministry said in a statement, adding that it would ease traffic in the area by separating Jewish and Palestinian travelers.
“On the political level, the road will… enable construction for Jewish settling in the E1 area,” the statement continued, saying it effectively would ensure Jerusalem’s connection to Ma’ale Adumim.
The highway project, which has been frozen for nearly a decade, will now be passed along to the Civil Administration’s High Planning Subcommittee, the Defense Ministry body responsible for authorizing West Bank construction, where it will receive additional approvals necessary for the paving to begin.
In an accompanying statement, Bennett said the new highway “will improve the quality of life for residents in the area, avoid unnecessary friction [for Israelis] with the Palestinian population and most importantly — allow for continued [settlement] construction.”
“We’re applying sovereignty [to the West Bank] in deeds, not in words,” Bennett concluded.
The Peace Now settlement watchdog pointed out that in removing Palestinian travelers from E1, where Israel is seeking to entrench settler presence, the Defense Ministry is enabling the advancing of the West Bank security barrier’s construction around Ma’ale Adumim and E1, which has long been stalled.
The left-wing group said in a statement that “the planned road would allow Israel to cut the West Bank in half… and shut down the possibility of developing a viable Palestinian state.
“The only roads Israel paved for Palestinians in its 52 years of control over the territories were designed to allow Israel to build settlements or barriers that block existing Palestinian routes. There is no desire here to improve Palestinian transportation, only to expand the settlements,” Peace Now said.
The announcement from Bennett came two weeks after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the promotion of a plan for some 3,500 homes in E1 that had long been frozen due to objections from governments around the world supportive of a two-state solution.
The project would bisect the western West Bank, substantially curbing the possibility for development in the center of a future Palestinian state if one were to be created.
The project Netanyahu referred to actually comprises two plans north of Ma’ale Adumim totaling 3,426 homes that were prepared by the government of former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1994 and advanced through an early planning stage called “deposit” in 2004 by the Civil Administration, the Defense Ministry body responsible for authorizing settlement construction. Then prime minister Ariel Sharon dropped the plans upon the request of US president George W. Bush.
In 2012, Netanyahu green-lit the resurrection of the plan and it was once again approved for “deposit.” The Haaretz daily reported at the time that France and the UK considered recalling their ambassadors from Israel in response to the approval. The project has since been frozen due to what Netanyahu acknowledged was pressure from European governments and the US.
Last month, Netanyahu announced that he had lifted restrictions on the construction of the controversial Givat Hamatos neighborhood in East Jerusalem, saying that 3,000 homes would be built for Jewish residents there, in addition to another 2,200 housing units for Jews in the nearby Har Homa neighborhood.