Tuesday, October 20, 2020

“De facto annexation”; Israel begins construction on controversial East Jerusalem bypass

By The Palestine Monitor - June 16, 2020
Section: [Main News]
Tags: [Jerusalem]

Israel has begun construction on a controversial new highway linking illegal settlements in the West Bank, located north and south of Jerusalem. 

Dubbed 'The American Road’, Israel claims the bypass will benefit both Israelis and Palestinians. However, Palestinian activists have flagged it as part of a wide-ranging plan to cut the eastern half of the city off from the occupied West Bank and further diminish Palestine’s hope for East Jerusalem as their future capital.

In total, the project, which will run along or near the outer rim of East Jerusalem, is forecast to cost more than a quarter of a billion dollars. East Jerusalem was annexed by Israel, along with the West Bank, Gaza and the Golan Heights in 1967 following the 'Six Day War’, a move which remains unrecognised under international law.

Construction has started on the southern and central sections, whilst tenders for the northernmost part will be issued towards the end of the year, estimated to cost $187 million, a Jerusalem municipality official told Reuters.

Palestinians have condemned the road, saying it will primarily benefit settlers, and will further undermine the feasibility of East Jerusalem as the capital of the state they seek in the West Bank and Gaza.

Fadi Al-Hidmi, the Palestinian Minister of Jerusalem Affairs told Reuters that The American Road was part of Israel’s “illegal” ring road project, which “surrounds occupied East Jerusalem to further connect Israeli settlements and sever the occupied Palestinian capital from the rest of the West Bank.”

“This project cuts off Palestinian neighbourhoods within the city from one another,” he warned. 

Daniel Seidemann, an Israeli attorney who represented some Palestinian families affected by the construction, told Reuters the bypass fitted into a long-time strategy by Israel of using infrastructure projects to secure “de facto annexation” of territory.

“What we are seeing here is, again, the seamless integration of the northern West Bank, East Jerusalem under sole Israeli control, and the southern West Bank for the purposes of the settlers,” said Seidemann, who specialises in the geopolitics of Jerusalem. “That is the motivation, and the fact that it will benefit a Palestinian East Jerusalemite somewhat is collateral spinoff, but not more than that.”

Israel’s illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank were built on land captured during the 1967 war by successive governments. More than 400,000 Israelis now live there, with another 200,000 residing in East Jerusalem. 

Palestinians say the settlements make a future state unviable, and most of the world views them as illegal under international law. Israel disputes this, citing its security needs and biblical and historical ties to the land on which they are built.

The construction comes amidst Israeli government cabinet-level discussions to implement Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s election promise of annexing Jewish settlements in the West Bank – a planned steeped in criticism. 

As part of a recent agreement to form a coalition government with Benny Gantz, Netanyahu can submit Trump’s so-called 'Middle East peace plan’ to his cabinet and Parliament as early as July 1 for possible endorsement.

The plan recognises Israeli sovereignty over settlements in the occupied West Bank and stipulated that Israel would be granted security control of the Jordan Valley in the West Bank, where dozens of illegal settlements have been built over decades.

In return, Palestinians would have their own demilitarised state with a capital in East Jerusalem. The Palestinian Authority has outright rejected the plan.

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