Senior defense official: No operational reason to build West Bank Battir barrier at present

IDF's goal is to preserve its right to build the barrier in the area in the future, official tells the Post.

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September 22, 2014 06:15
3 minute read.
Battir village

A train track running along the 1949 armistice line is seen near terraced agricultural fields in Battir village, south of Jerusalem. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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Building a three-kilometer stretch of the security barrier near the West Bank Palestinian village of Battir is “not a priority” at present, a senior defense official told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday night.

“At present, there is no operational reason to build it,” he explained.

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The IDF’s goal here is to preserve its right to build the barrier in that area in the future, even though it has no intention to construct it at this time, the official said.

The barrier’s route near Battir, located just outside of Jerusalem, in the Gush Etzion region of the West Bank is bitterly contested by Palestinians, environmentalists and settlers before the High Court of Justice, in part because it threatens to harm ancient agricultural stone terraces that date back to Biblical times.

In June the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) registered Battir’s terraces as an endangered World Heritage site under the “state of Palestine."

In response to UNESCO’s decision, the High Court of Justice on July 29, asked that the issue of the barrier be brought to the government by October 2 so the minister could be appraised of the implications of the Battir’s placement on the World Heritage List.

On Sunday the government debated the security barrier route near Battir, which it had approved in 2006. It issued the following statement after its meeting.



“Pursuant to the Supreme Court's July 29, 2014 decision regarding the route of the security fence in the area of Battir and UNESCO's June 20, 2014 decision, the cabinet did not see fit to change its previous decisions.”

But it did not take the extra step of voting to affirm it, according to an Israeli official.

The court did not obligate the government to reauthorize the route. But the absence of such a vote was widely interpreted by barrier opponents as a sign that the government’s resolve with regard to building the barrier near Battir and in the Gush Etzion region as a whole had weakened. They also believe it bolsters their legal battle against the barrier.

A senior security official explained the meeting this way. “The intention from the outset was to confirm the route, but not its construction.”

A security and budgetary assessment would have to be done, before moving forward with construction, the official said.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Sunday promised to return the issue to the government before implementation of any construction plan for the Battir section of the barrier.

The bulk of the barrier in the Gush Etzion region, totaling 45 kilometers, has not yet been built. Settlers leaders there oppose its construction and have argued that the area can be secured through other means.

Gush Etzion Regional Council head Davidi Perl said he saw in the government’s actions on Sunday a decision not to continue building the barrier in his region.

“It is the right decision,” Perl said.

Efrat Council head Oded Revivi said: “The government’s decision from 2006 is no longer relevant to today’s reality.”

The 2006 route for example, would cut through Revivi’s settlement, breaking off an area where it plans to build thousands of new homes.

Yaron Rosenthal, director of the Gush Etzion field school, said continuing with the barrier would harm the environment, adding that there were other security alternatives that could protect the area.

Gidon Bromberg, Israeli director of Friends of the Earth Middle East (FoEME), who has a petition on the matter pending before the High Court, said: “The government now has another opportunity to address the alternatives already presented by FoEME, which allow maintaining the unique World Heritage site of Battir and the security needs of Israel.

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