Israel bows to US pressure, freezes plans to connect Jerusalem to city east of capital

The planned construction in the E-1 corridor could prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state, says the U.S. administration.

By Nadav Shragai, Israel Hayom via JNS

Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett have ordered the Civil Administration in Judea and Samaria’s supreme planning council to halt discussions on the authorization of construction to connect Ma’ale Adumim to Jerusalem in the E-1 corridor.

Construction had been planned for some 3,000 acres of largely government-owned land and was to include some 3,500 housing units.

The committee began to discuss the plan, which had been frozen for years, toward the end of the previous government, under Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu. Bennett, and Gantz intervened in the fourth of six authorization stages after most of the Palestinian objections to the move were heard.

The government directive to stop the talks and the promotion of the plan followed opposition from Washington and sharp criticism from the left-wing Meretz Party, which made clear it saw the advancement of construction as the crossing of a red line.

The United States has for years taken the Palestinian side on the issue, claiming the plan would cut off Palestinian territorial continuity from the north to the south and could prevent the establishment of a future Palestinian state.

The Israeli position, however, is that the plan would not harm any such continuity, which does not exist to begin with, and which, if it should become necessary, could see the E-1 corridor circumvented via roads, tunnels and other construction.

All government heads, beginning with the late Yitzhak Rabin, who initiated the plan, have expressed public support for the move but found it difficult to advance due to diplomatic pressure.

The Israeli interest in realizing the E-1 plan, as defined by Israel Defense Forces chiefs of staff throughout the years, is not shared by the international community in general, and the European Union in particular.

Israel’s interest is to see continuity between the west of the country—Jerusalem—and the east, from Ma’ale Adumim to the Dead Sea, as part of a Jewish security belt around the capital.

Israel fears the Palestinians could cut Ma’ale Adumim off from Jerusalem through construction that would surround Jerusalem from the east and see portions of Jerusalem revert to being something of a no man’s land, as they were on the eve of the 1967 Six-Day War.

This would prevent the city from developing eastward, and would also threaten the Jerusalem-Jericho road, upon which Palestinian construction has already encroached. This artery is strategic in the first degree, as it allows Israel to move its troops through the Jordan Valley northward in times of war.

‘The claim is not true’

In Israel, there was for many years a near-absolute consensus on the need to connect Ma’ale Adumim to Jerusalem through the E-1 corridor, and in the future, to apply Israeli sovereignty to this area.

Eight prime ministers, including Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert, committed to the E-1 construction, but outside of the construction of a district police station, no other progress was made due to intense diplomatic pressure and U.S. and EU opposition.

“After years of a construction freeze, [and] when we had finally started to move along the path of planning approval procedures, this intervention is unacceptable,” said Ma’ale Adumim Mayor Benny Kashriel.

“We thought Gantz was the successor to Rabin, who initiated the plan and declared the E-1 [area] state land. Unfortunately, we have been proven wrong. This was done without consulting with us. The time has come to realize through construction our control of these lands before others take them over,” he said.

“The claim that E-1 cuts off Palestinian continuity is not true,” said Kashriel. “Anyone familiar with the area knows it. It’s just an excuse to prevent us from developing and growing.”

In Ma’ale Adumim itself, in the area bordering the planned construction, construction is now underway on 800 new housing units following a lengthy freeze. Another 3,300 housing units, to be built between the industrial area and the Nofei Hasela neighborhood that borders the E-1 corridor, are now in the planning phase. Some 40,000 people currently live in Ma’ale Adumim.

Gantz’s office declined to comment on the report.

The Prime Minister’s Office did not issue a statement in time for publication.