Corridor of controversy

Excerpts from an analysis dealing with the E-1 area and its role as a link between Jerusalem and Ma’aleh Adumim.

Ma'aleh Adumim (photo credit: Reuters)
Ma'aleh Adumim
(photo credit: Reuters)
The site called E1 (East 1) is an area immediately adjacent to Jerusalem to the east, which covers an area of 1,200 hectares of largely uninhabited and mostly state-owned land. It is within the municipal boundary of Ma’aleh Adumim. The Construction and Housing Ministry, which devised the E1 construction plan, sought to develop the area in order to link Ma’aleh Adumim and its 36,000 residents to Jerusalem.
Every prime minister since Yitzhak Rabin has supported the plan to create Israeli urban contiguity between Ma’aleh Adumim and Jerusalem. The centerpiece of the E1 program involves the construction of 3,500 housing units, a commercial area, and a hotel zone.
The plan is a subject of bitter international controversy, with the Palestinians claiming that it would prevent sovereign Palestinian contiguity between the northern and southern areas of the West Bank. The United States has supported the Palestinian position and has sought to block Israeli construction at the site, pending a final peace agreement.
The Israeli interest, one that tends to be ignored by the international community, is to bring E1 to fruition by establishing contiguity between Jerusalem in the west and Ma’aleh Adumim as well as the approaches to the Dead Sea in the east, as part of a security belt of Jewish communities surrounding Israel’s capital. Without control of the E1 area, Israel is apprehensive about a Palestinian belt of construction that will threaten Jerusalem from the east, block the city’s development east, and undermine Israel’s control of the Jerusalem-Jericho road. This major artery is of paramount strategic importance for Israel in order to transport troops and equipment eastward and northward via the Jordan Rift Valley in time of war, and this road is already subject to growing pressure from unchecked Palestinian building.
AN ALMOST total consensus prevails regarding the need to connect Ma’aleh Adumim to Jerusalem via construction in E1. Yet, aside from building the police headquarters of the Judea and Samaria District in the area, no further construction has occurred due to American opposition.
The vast amount of time that has elapsed since the first stages of the plan were approved has led to an erosion of the area’s size as wandering Beduin tribes and illegal Palestinian construction have reduced the area available for building. These phenomena have also narrowed the corridor to Jerusalem from about two kilometers to the width of a single kilometer – an opening that is constricting all the time.
Contrary to many reports, the completion of E1 construction would not cut the West Bank in half and undermine Palestinian contiguity. Israel has planned a new road that would allow Palestinian traffic coming from the south to pass east of Ma’aleh Adumim and continue northward to connect with the cities in the northern West Bank. This Palestinian bypass road would actually reduce the time for Palestinian drivers traveling in a north-south direction. They would not have to stop at roadblocks as they come into Israeli territory and would be driving on a multi-lane highway.
WITH A view toward consolidating Jerusalem’s status as the capital of Israel, successive governments planned and built a chain of neighborhoods and satellite towns around the city. Ma’aleh Adumim, to the east, was established in 1977; Givat Ze’ev to the north and Efrat in the Etzion Bloc to the south were established in 1982. Betar Illit, southwest of Jerusalem, was established in 1984. Surrounding these satellite towns are dozens of additional communities. Israel views these satellite towns as part of a single Jerusalem metropolitan area. All Israeli governments have conceived this settlement bloc, akin to the other major settlement blocs established in the West Bank relatively close to the “green line,” as destined to remain within the area of the State of Israel and to be annexed to it in the framework of a permanent peace agreement.
On April 14, 2004, US president George W. Bush sent a letter to prime minister Ariel Sharon in this vein. In the letter, Bush declared that the US position was that in any final Israeli-Palestinian arrangement, the demographic reality that was created on the ground since the Six Day War should be taken into account, and that Israel could not be expected to withdraw totally from all areas of the West Bank. Sharon viewed the letter from Bush as an Israeli achievement that derived from the decision by his government to approve the Gaza-Northern Samaria disengagement plan.
The route of the West Bank separation fence was plotted on the basis of the principle of eventually incorporating the major settlement blocs within Israel.
Some 220,000 of the 290,000 settlers reside within these major settlement blocs. In general, Israel’s High Court of Justice has upheld the principle of including the settlement blocs west of the security fence.
Ma’aleh Adumim was established by a decision of the government of Israel in 1977. The first residents arrived in 1982 and it became a city in 1991.
Ma’aleh Adumim is located at the edge of the Judean Desert about 7 km. east of Jerusalem on the Jerusalem- Jericho Road and it is close to Jerusalem’s northern neighborhoods of Pisgat Ze’ev, French Hill and Ramat Eshkol. The city is known for its high quality of life, with well developed educational, cultural and recreational facilities. The city’s municipal plan envisions a population of 70,000 residents by the year 2020.
DURING THE government of Yitzhak Shamir in 1991, defense minister Moshe Arens signed an order transferring part of the area currently known as E1 to the Ma’aleh Adumim local council. In January 1994, the Higher Planning Council of Judea and Samaria’s Subcommittee for Settlement presented a new plan that expanded the municipal plan for Ma’aleh Adumim and, in effect, constituted the basis for the future E1 plan on an area of 1,200 hectares. Prime minister Yitzhak Rabin instructed housing and construction minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer to begin planning a neighborhood at the location. From then on, planning and authorization procedures for the E1 neighborhood were promoted but were never totally completed, given the diplomatic constraints.
Most of the land in E1 is not suitable for construction due to topographical considerations (steep hills). As a result, much of E1 is intended to be a nature reserve.
On its western side, near Jerusalem, there is a plan for residential housing. This neighborhood, named “Mevaseret Adumim” by municipal leaders in Ma’aleh Adumim, is to comprise 3,500 housing units in three sub-sections. E1 is also to include the now-completed police headquarters of the Judea and Samaria district, as well as tourism, hotel, industrial and commercial areas.
The boundaries of the plan abut the edge of Jerusalem’s municipal boundary. To the southeast it is bounded by Highway 1 and the neighborhoods of Azariya, Abu Dis and the encampment of the Beduin Jahalin tribe. To the west are Isawiya and the neighborhoods of Anata and A-Zaim. To the north is Road 437, in the area of the Hizma checkpoint.
The commercial and industrial areas are intended to serve all of the populations in the Jerusalem region, and provide thousands of jobs for both Israelis and Palestinians. The route of the separation fence in the Jerusalem perimeter includes the area of E1 on the Israeli side.
THE HOUSING plan and other construction in E1 has been delayed due to American opposition. In an interview in The Jerusalem Post in September 2005, prime minister Ehud Olmert confirmed that Israel had obligated itself to the Bush administration not to build between Ma’aleh Adumim and Jerusalem, saying: “The State of Israel committed itself to freeze construction.”
Olmert emphasized, however, that this did not mean the end of the program.
The US has opposed settlement activity in principle, not on legal grounds but because it could prejudice the outcome of future negotiations. In implementing its policy, Washington has drawn distinctions between different types of construction and their location. For example, the April 30, 2003, Roadmap for Peace calls on Israel “to freeze all settlement activity [including natural growth of settlements].”
But in September 2004, deputy secretary of state Richard L. Armitage noted: “If you have settlements that already exist and you put more people into them but don’t expand the physical, sort of, the area – that might be one thing.” In other words, Armitage was suggesting that the freeze on settlements meant a freeze on expanding the territorial limits of a settlement in order to absorb more people.
Since E1 would not constitute a new Israeli settlement – it is part of Ma’aleh Adumim – it presents a special case: it is beyond the last building and the line of construction in Ma’aleh Adumim, but it is within its municipal borders.
IN A Knesset discussion on October 5, 1994, Rabin declared: “United Jerusalem would also encompass Ma’aleh Adumim as well as Givat Ze’ev as the capital of Israel under Israeli sovereignty.” Six months previously, in April, Rabin handed over the annexation documents of the E1 area to Ma’aleh Adumim Mayor Benny Kashriel.
On March 13, 1996, prime minister Shimon Peres reaffirmed the government’s position that Israel will demand Israeli sovereignty over Ma’aleh Adumim in the framework of a permanent peace agreement.
Sharon made it clear in April 2005 that “E1 is a 10-year plan, and the intention is to continue it.” Shaul Mofaz, the defense minister in the Sharon government, stated during a tour that he conducted in E1 that he stood behind the plan to create Jewish contiguity between Jerusalem and Ma’aleh Adumim. In an information CD published by the Ma’aleh Adumim municipality, 18 major figures were documented as they made declarations of faith to Ma’aleh Adumim and E1: • Ehud Barak: “It is compulsory to translate into practice our ownership over the E1 corridor. Without a readiness to build a contiguity that will connect Mount Scopus to Ma’aleh Adumim, Ma’aleh Adumim is in danger. If we do not embark immediately upon political action, in establishing plain facts, we are liable to lose Ma’aleh Adumim.”
• Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu: “We want to create a contiguity of greater Jerusalem from west to east, the Palestinians want to halt the contiguity by building from north to south... They want to choke Jerusalem on one hand and want to detach it from Ma’aleh Adumim on the other hand. We must overcome them and build E1.”
• Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin: “The E1 plan is an objective that we will never forgo... If Yitzhak Rabin were still alive he would have issued an uncompromising directive to carry out E1.”
Even old peace plans that spoke of the division of Jerusalem envisioned linking Ma’aleh Adumim and Jerusalem. According to a document of understandings between former minister Yossi Beilin and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas from the mid-1990s, while some Jerusalem Arab neighborhoods were to be transferred to a future Palestinian state, Israel was to annex the Jewish communities around Jerusalem, such as Ma’aleh Adumim, Givat Ze’ev, Betar Illit and Efrat. According to the Clinton outline for partitioning Jerusalem that arose in the talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority at Camp David in 2000, Israel was to be compensated for partitioning the city by annexing communities such as Ma’aleh Adumim.
A similar formulation was expressed by former foreign minister Tzipi Livni during a tour she conducted in the E1 area together with Kashriel in May 2008. However, it is hard to understand how such a plan would contribute to Jerusalem’s security if additional Arab neighborhoods in eastern Jerusalem were allowed to constitute a barrier between the capital and Ma’aleh Adumim, while the two cities would be linked only via a narrow corridor.
THE MAIN threat to Israel’s future contiguity comes from encroachments on E1 made by illegal Palestinian construction. Israeli and Palestinian construction in the West Bank has been governed by the legal terms of the Oslo II Interim Agreement of September 28, 1995. Oslo II divided the West Bank into three jurisdictions: Areas A, B, and C. In Area C, according to Oslo II, Israel retained the powers of zoning and planning.
The area around E1 is within Area C and much of the recently completed Palestinian construction there did not receive Israeli approval and, as a result, is illegal.
In contrast, none of the Oslo agreements prohibited Israeli settlement activity, which was considered an issue for permanent status negotiations in the future. Despite the absence of an Israeli settlement freeze, Yasser Arafat signed the Oslo II Interim Agreement, which covered the West Bank, nonetheless.
Up to now, Israel itself has not built the E1 neighborhood, except for the police station and a number of roads. In the area of the plan, spreading illegal Arab construction is discernible, particularly from the direction of A-Zaim.
While this construction has occurred in Area C, under Israeli civil control, the Civil Administration has not asserted control over the phenomenon. Security bodies warn that if Israel does not take significant measures to prevent the Palestinian takeover of this land, in the future it will not be possible to realize the E1 plan, particularly in the industrial and commercial area that abuts Anata. Security officials estimate that part of the Beduin migration to the area of E1 stems from their apprehension of being left outside the separation fence.
The Palestinians, for their part, do not conceal their aspiration to prevent Israeli construction in E1. Faisal Husseini, a Palestinian leader who died in 2001, said that building without permits in the Jerusalem area was one of the Palestinians’ weapons in the struggle against Israel. Muhammad Nahal, an expert on urban planning in the “Institute of Arab Studies” that operated in Orient House (the former PLO headquarters), drew up a plan in 1993 to construct three Arab cities around Jerusalem in order to surround the Jewish neighborhoods that were built after 1967. E1, from the Israeli perspective, is almost the sole obstacle to the realization of the objective implicit in Nahal’s program.
On the ground there is a discernible Palestinian aim to link up Arab eastern Jerusalem neighborhoods to adjacent neighborhoods and towns in the West Bank. During the period of the Barak government, the Palestinians formally requested that the region of E1 be transferred to them as Area B (where they enjoy full civilian control), but Barak refused.
CONTIGUITY OF Israeli construction between Jerusalem and Ma’aleh Adumim will ostensibly create a barrier between Palestinian areas south of Jerusalem and areas of Palestinian settlement to the north. By contrast, if the area of E1 passes into Palestinian hands and/or Palestinian construction there intensifies, this will detach the city of Ma’aleh Adumim from Jerusalem, and Israel’s capital will once again find itself at the end of a corridor with no other exit, becoming once again an outlying frontier city in an economic, planning and security sense as it was before 1967.
The construction of E1 will make the difference between Jewish contiguity from west to east and Palestinian contiguity from north to south, while the lack of construction in E1 is tilting the decision in the direction of Palestinian contiguity at Israel’s expense.
On October 24, 2007, Israel expropriated 110 hectares for the purpose of paving a road for Palestinian use. Most of the land expropriated was state land and only 22.5 hectares were private land. The road was intended to allow transportation contiguity from the Ramallah region north of Jerusalem to the Bethlehem region to the south.
The Palestinian road passes through a tunnel under the Jerusalem-Ma’aleh Adumim road. In this way, the Palestinians would enjoy transportation contiguity without cutting the link between Ma’aleh Adumim and Jerusalem.
THE REALIZATION of the E1 plan is a vital Israeli interest. Delay in carrying out the plan jeopardizes its actual realization because of illegal Palestinian construction in the area and the penetration of Beduin encampments. The failure to realize this plan will almost certainly create Palestinian contiguity to the east of Jerusalem that will separate it from the city of Ma’aleh Adumim and return Jerusalem to the status of an outlying frontier city.
A similar situation occurred at the end of the 1990s over the construction of a Jewish neighborhood in Har Homa, within the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem. Israel insisted on carrying out the program because, in its evaluation, a lack of Jewish construction would sooner or later invite Palestinian construction that would drive a wedge between the Jewish neighborhoods of Gilo and East Talpiot. Israel built the Har Homa neighborhood despite American opposition, and the US reconciled itself in the end to the Israeli position, even if it did not agree with it.
If and when a Palestinian state should arise, Palestinian contiguity between the northern and southern parts of the West Bank can take place through the completion of the planned contiguity road. Israeli construction of E1 will not interfere with Palestinian contiguity, but if Israel were to lose control of E1, due to illegal Palestinian construction, the contiguity of Israel would be severely compromised.
Nadav Shragai is the author of Jerusalem: The Dangers of Division – An Alternative to Separation from the Arab Neighborhoods (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, 2008); At the Crossroads, the Story of the Tomb of Rachel (Jerusalem Studies, 2005); and The Mount of Contention, the Struggle for the Temple Mount, Jews and Muslims, Religion and Politics since 1967 (Keter, 1995).