(photo credit: AP [file])
Defense Minister Amir Peretz has approved the original route of the separation barrier surrounding the Ma'aleh Adumim enclave, placing 64,000 dunams of West Bank land on the Israeli side of the barrier, Jerusalem lawyer Shlomo Lecker told The Jerusalem Post Thursday.
Lecker represents Palestinian petitioners from Abu Dis and Suahra A-Sharqia who are objecting to three segments of the 38-kilometer-long barrier. He said he had been informed of Peretz's decision by Justice Ministry attorney Orit Corinaldi-Sirkis, who is representing the state in the petitions.
The Justice Ministry spokesman was unable to confirm or deny the report. Corinaldi-Sirkis was out of the country.
A spokesman for Peretz told the Post the matter was being looked into.
Given his previous criticism of the inroads the barrier has made elsewhere in the West Bank, many people had expected Peretz to change the route and make it less invasive in this area.
On February 2, 2005, the previous government approved the route of the barrier creating the Ma'aleh Adumim enclave. In fact, the barrier does much more than protect Ma'aleh Adumim, a city of approximately 30,000 residents. From a point just west of the city, it plunges 7 kilometers south to include the settlement of Keidar (population 620) within its confines, then heads northeast past the Mishor Adumim industrial area and cuts across the Jerusalem-Jericho highway to include the settlement of Alon (population 360.) From there, it winds its way west back toward Jerusalem and includes the settlements of Kfar Adumim (population 2,100), Nofei Perat (population 240) and Almon (population 720.)
According to Lecker, the barrier is located 10 km. away from Ma'aleh Adumim at the point it bisects the Jerusalem-Jericho highway, and 15 km. away at it farthest point along the route.
The residents of Abu Dis and Suahra A-Sharqia petitioned against only a small part of the barrier route, where it allegedly causes them direct damage. They charged that the barrier separated villagers from lands belonging to them inside the enclave.
However, the Council for Peace and Security, in its capacity as "friend of the court," submitted a brief to the High Court of Justice maintaining that the route proposed by the government was bloated and took up much more land than was necessary to protect Ma'aleh Adumim.
"The barrier route is located far away from the areas that require protection," council representatives wrote. "The building of the barrier so far away creates security problems and difficulties requiring expensive solutions in terms of money and manpower for erecting the barrier and maintaining it."
According to the council's proposal, the northern and southern flanks of the barrier would be moved much closer to Ma'aleh Adumim, restoring about half of the 64,000 dunams in the enclave to the West Bank side. The council recommended building a special security fence around Keidar to protect it. The proposal also reduced the length of the barrier route by 14 km. compared to the government's proposal.
The High Court held its first and, so far, only hearing on the petitions on March 26, a few days before the elections that brought Peretz to the Defense Ministry. During the hearing, Col. (res.) Danny Tirza, head of the Defense Ministry's Separation Barrier Authority, acknowledged that the Council for Peace and Security's proposal provided sufficient protection for Ma'aleh Adumim, but said the barrier was also meant to protect Keidar to the south.
In fact, the barrier also includes the Jewish settlements far to the north of Ma'aleh Adumim, including Kfar Adumim, where Tirza lives. This fact has particularly angered Lecker, who charged that Tirza was involved in a conflict of interests. He told the court that Tirza's proposal should be shelved and the route designed by someone who did not have a personal stake in it.
The court heard the sides that day but did not make a decision. Three months later, on June 21, it issued a show-cause order, instructing the government to explain in detail why the route it proposed for the Ma'aleh Adumim enclave was necessary.
Since being appointed defense minister, Peretz has declared more than once that he intended to review the entire route of the barrier that had not yet been built.
The court had slammed the Defense Ministry and particularly Tirza for misleading it regarding the route of a segment of the fence near the settlement of Tzofin. In defending the route against earlier petitions, Tirza had insisted that it had been determined by security needs. In a later petition, however, an embarrassed Justice Ministry representative had been forced to admit that the Defense Ministry had planned part of the route not for security reasons but to accommodate Tzofin's future housing plans.
Peretz announced that he was looking into the matter of Tirza's conduct, but has done nothing about it so far.
When it issued the show-cause order in June, the court gave the state 20 days to reply. Five months later, the state has still not done so. It has asked for postponements from time to time on the grounds that the defense minister was studying the matter. According to Lecker, Peretz has now made up his mind to back the original route.
Col. (res.) Shaul Arieli, a member of the Council for Peace and Security who has spearheaded its drive against the current route, told the Post, "I will be astonished if the government decides to invest NIS 100 million just to protect a small settlement [Keidar] that is far away from any threat. After all, even the state's representative [Tirza] told the court our proposal for the barrier provided sufficient protection for Ma'aleh Adumim."