Home Page

Who'll want to drive on Route 443?

 By: Shaul Arieli, Haaretz


As of tomorrow, Palestinians will be allowed to make limited and monitored use of Route 443, which connects Modi'in and Jerusalem through the West Bank. This development follows the Supreme Court ruling last December that ordered the army to lift its ban on Palestinian traffic on the road. Public debate has centered on this aspect of the matter, ignoring the road's role in Israel's policies on the area surrounding Jerusalem.

It's clear that Israeli defense officials have learned nothing from the construction of the separation fence, judging by the way they have set out to implement the Supreme Court ruling: putting up, at a huge expense, fences and crossing points. They are merely repeating the errors pointed out in the 2007 Brodet Report on the defense budget, which found that "the manner in which the fence was erected is another example of faulty and wasteful planning and execution .... The military saw itself as a subcontractor carrying out orders to build a fence."

Today, too, the military is remaining loyal to a political plan based on considerations that have nothing to do with security, thereby making a mockery of both the spirit of the Supreme Court ruling and of any potentially positive movements on the political horizon.

The security needs that arose from terrorist attacks on Route 443 have been met by the separation fence, which was built near the Green Line but took in nearby Jewish West Bank settlements. Israel did not seek to secure Route 443 according to the same security model as has been applied to the West Bank's other roads. Instead, it saw the road as a way to determine the permanent borders of a new "Jerusalem corridor."

This was to be achieved by a web of security measures to exclude Palestinian vehicles from the road and the takeover of areas for expanding Jewish settlements, mainly Givat Ze'ev. A 15-kilometer stretch of the fence that was built in the outskirts of Ramallah and three kilometers north of Route 443 annexed thousands of acres of land to Givat Ze'ev. It left five kilometers of the road on "the Israeli side." Israel chose to bar Palestinians from using the road - first by physical obstacles and later by military order - to avoid having to make the tens of thousands of Israeli vehicles that use the road go through intensive security checks.

Israel also wanted to avoid the trouble of putting up a crossing point that would have been necessary at the fence at Beit Horon, and of expanding the existing crossing points where the road enters Israel proper. This made it necessary for the Defense Ministry to build 22 kilometers of roads, as well as a 1.4-kilometer-long tunnel, for Palestinian use. Two of these roads pass underneath Route 443 and another runs east of Givat Ze'ev.

The Supreme Court ruled that in principle it was not possible to repudiate the road's original purpose, as affirmed by the Defense Ministry in explaining the confiscation of lands for building the road in the 1980s - namely connecting the villages along it to the Palestinian town of Bitunia, which abuts Ramallah. But the permission the ministry received in the ruling voids of content the decision to return Palestinian traffic to Route 443. It basically turns it into a dead letter.

The Supreme Court made it possible, and the Defense Ministry has chosen to remain loyal to the political purpose and not the ruling's purpose. Instead of moving the barrier to exclude the five kilometers of road, it has spent tens of millions of shekels to build two new checkpoints at the entrances to Route 443 and a crossing next to Camp Ofer - all in the name of security.

What does the Defense Ministry think will make Palestinians use Route 443 when it demands an additional security check after which they will encounter a barrier preventing them from continuing on to Ramallah?

Israel has shown political shortsightedness, too. In a permanent agreement with the Palestinians, Route 443 could be used by Israeli traffic under special arrangements. However, instead of using the Supreme Court ruling as a platform for shaping a reality of joint use, Israel has chosen to add an additional security installation to the security fence with the aim of grabbing everything. But the chances are greater that we'll be left with nothing.    

Click here for full article in Haaretz