Gov't braces for road opening appeals

Defense Ministry braces

A day after the High Court of Justice ordered the IDF to open Route 443 to Palestinian traffic, defense officials said Wednesday that the Defense Ministry is preparing legal arguments against an expected spate of court petitions to open other roads currently only open to Israeli cars because of security concerns. On Tuesday, the High Court of Justice ordered the IDF to open Route 443 - which links Jerusalem to Ben-Gurion Airport and Tel Aviv - to Palestinian traffic. The road was closed to such traffic in 2002 following a spate of terror attacks along the road that killed six people. Until then, the road had served as many as 55,000 Palestinians living in several villages along the length of the highway, including Beit Sira, Safa, Beit Ur a-Tahta and Khirbet el-Misbah. Modi'in Mayor Haim Bibas, in an interview with Israel Radio Wednesday morning, said the High Court of Justice decision to open the 443 highway to Palestinian traffic is "detached from reality." Bibas stressed that the road was closed after various terror attacks, is now safe and constitutes a central artery for traffic. According to the B'Tselem advocacy organization, there are still 59 kilometers of roads in the West Bank that are off limits to Palestinian traffic. Most notably are the roads that link the Palestinian village of Hawara with the settlement of Elon Moreh, the road that connects the Palestinian town of Salfit with Road 5 and the Kedar road near Ma'aleh Adumim. Officials said that the Defense Ministry's legal department was preparing defenses for expected petitions by human rights and advocacy organizations against the closure of these roads to Palestinian Authority traffic. "The court ruling on 443 sets a precedent based on which groups will likely try to get other roads opened," one official said. The court gave the IDF five months to make preparations to open a 14-kilometer section of Road 443 that is between two checkpoints - one called Maccabim near Modi'in, and the other on the opposite side near Jerusalem. To ensure the safety of Israeli drivers, the IDF will likely increase its presence on the highway and erect additional watchtowers to deter and spot potential attackers. "This is a matter of strategic importance since this is one of only two highways that connects Jerusalem with the center of the country," one IDF source said Wednesday. "We need to make sure that it is safe and open at all times." In addition to potential shooting attacks on the road, the IDF is also concerned with the possibility that Palestinian terrorists will plant improvised explosive devices near the highway. Two weeks ago, security forces discovered the remains of an IED - made of a gas balloon and firecrackers - that had gone off along the road. Right-wing MKs sprang into action in the wake of the High Court decision, with MK Moshe Matalon (Israel Beiteinu) proposing a private member's bill that would annex "the road known as 443 into the authority of the State of Israel as was done with the annexation of the Golan Heights." At that point, 443 would not be considered by Israel to be part of the West Bank, and thus Israel would not be obligated to allow Palestinians without Israeli identity cards to drive on the road, he said. MK Danny Danon (Likud) also tried to find a legislative solution to the Supreme Court ruling, by calling on the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee to meet to discuss the implications "and to find a suitable solution." If the committee does not hold an urgent hearing on the subject, Danon threatened that he, too, would submit legislation that would allow a security or diplomatic body to bypass the High Court on the decision. Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.•