Israel has begun building a bypass road linking West Bank settlements to Jerusalem, in a project dubbed “The American Road” that is set to cost over $250 million, according to a new report.
The road will connect settlements north and south of the capital to the city, as well as cut travel times for East Jerusalem neighborhoods, city officials told Reuters on Monday. It is poised to be completed in the summer of 2021, according to the report.
The project is named for an incomplete decades-old road worked on by a US company in the 1960s that winds through southeast Jerusalem. Construction was abandoned following the Six Day War in 1967.
Fadi Al-Hidmi, the Palestinian Minister of Jerusalem Affairs, told the news agency the project “cuts off Palestinian neighborhoods within the city from one another.” Jerusalem officials counter that it will benefit both Jewish and Arab residents of Jerusalem.
“It doesn’t unite the settlements. It’s not about uniting borders or municipal lines,” said Deputy Mayor Arieh King, a far-right council member. “But it does connect them more on the daily level — whether it’s studies, tourism or commerce. And then in practice you create a huge Jerusalem metropolis.”
Critics say the road undermines the possibility of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital, cutting off these parts of the city from the West Bank.
Construction is under way on a major new ring road for Jerusalem that Israeli officials say will benefit all of its residents, but critics say is another obstacle to Palestinian hopes to make East Jerusalem the capital of a future state – MAP https://t.co/aGUoTOmdwS pic.twitter.com/As4hrSPtzX
— Stephen Farrell (@farrellreporter) June 15, 2020
An Israeli attorney representing families affected by the construction said such infrastructure projects amounted to “de facto annexation” of territory by Israel.
Daniel Seidemann dismissed arguments the road would also benefit East Jerusalem residents as “collateral spinoff.”
When completed, the road will link settlements south of Jerusalem to those north and east of the city, such as Ma’ale Adumim.
In March, then-defense minister Naftali Bennett ordered the advancement of plans to build 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.
The building projects come amid ramped up talk of prospective Israeli annexation of portions of the West Bank, which could begin in July under the Trump peace plan.