A train track running along the 1949 armistice line is seen near terraced agricultural fields in Battir village, south of Jerusalem.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The government on Sunday failed to reauthorize the route of a three-kilometer stretch of the security barrier in an environmentally and historically sensitive area near the West Bank village of Battir. It is a move that significantly bolsters the legal battle against the barrier being waged by environmentalists, settlers and Palestinians before the High Court of Justice.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Sunday also promised to return the issue to the government before implementation of any construction plan for the Battir section of the barrier.
In June the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) registered Battir’s ancient stone agricultural terraces, which date back to biblical times, as an endangered World Heritage site under the “state of Palestine.”
The PLO had requested the listing in hopes of preserving the terraces, which it believed would be harmed by the barrier.
In response to UNESCO’s decision, the High Court of Justice asked that the issue of the barrier be brought to the government by October 2 so it could be appraised of the implications of the decision.
The court did not obligate the government to reauthorize the route, which was approved in 2006. 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.
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 he 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.