Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu inaugurated a new bypass road for Israeli settlers in the northern West Bank on Tuesday and pledged to continue developing the Israeli-held territory.
“This bypass road is part of the system of bypass roads that we are building throughout Judea and Samaria that serves the residents of Judea and Samaria and the residents of the entire State of Israel,” Netanyahu said at the settlement of Tzufim, using the biblical terms for the West Bank.
He added that the road was part of an effort “to cancel and simply dissolve the concept of the periphery” — a term used in Israel to mean communities far from the economic and geographic center of the country.
The Nebi Elias road will connect the West Bank settlements of Tzufim, Alfei Menashe, Ma’ale Shomron, Karnei Shomron, Nofim, Yakir, Emanuel, and Kedumim with the Israeli cities of Kfar Saba and Herzliya through Route 55.
“We connect the state from north to south from east to west in a transport network of tunnels — not terror tunnels but tunnels of life — roads of life that change the face of the country and dissolve the periphery physically, geographically and socially,” Netanyahu said, taking a dig at the attack tunnels constructed by Hamas, the terror group that runs the Gaza Strip.
The completion of the bypass road, at a cost of some NIS 60 million ($17.6 million), followed a vocal campaign by settler leaders against Netanyahu’s government, which they argued was stalling efforts to complete such projects.
In November, several West Bank council chairmen, along with representatives of families who lost relatives in terror attacks on roads beyond the Green Line, launched a hunger strike outside Netanyahu’s official residence, pledging to remain there until funds for bypass roads were transferred.
After five days, Netanyahu signed a letter to settler leaders, putting in writing the promise of an NIS 800 million ($228 million) security package as part of the 2018 budget for West Bank roads and infrastructure development.
The budget was passed a month later with the security package intact.
The Nebi Elias road was the first of five West Bank bypass roads to have been completed, nearly two decades after its initial government approval.
“We will continue — already this year — to develop these roads as well as many other such projects that we have talked about over the years,” Netanyahu pledged to the settlers on Tuesday.
Also present at the ceremony were Transportation Minister Israel Katz, Deputy Defense Minister Eli Ben Dahan and Samaria Regional Council chairman Yossi Dagan.
“We place a special emphasis on advancing the planning and execution of strategic transportation projects in Judea and Samaria,” said Katz.
Ben Dahan said the government would begin the paving of two additional roads in the coming weeks that bypass the Palestinian towns of al-Aroub, south of the settlement of Efrat, and Hawara, south of the Yitzhar settlement.
Settlers say that bypass roads, which circumvent Palestinian population centers, are critical for their safety, citing terror attacks that have taken place on roads that run through Palestinian towns, including rock-throwings, firebomb attacks and shootings.
But opponents of the new roads say they are discriminatory, encourage the establishment of illegal outposts, and are sometimes paved on private Palestinian land.
Dagan called the road inauguration “the beginning of a new era in settlement.”
“It is impossible to overstate the importance of these bypass roads and the importance of transportation routes for settlement. They are the keys to the development of settlement,” he said.