Israel freezes construction in Judea-Samaria in anticipation of Biden visit
The Israeli government seems to be starting to fall in line with a request by Washington not to take any “provocative measures” in Judea and Samaria ahead of the July 13 visit by U.S. President Joe Biden to the Jewish state.
The Regavim movement told JNS that a scheduled July 18 discussion by the Civil Administration’s higher planning council towards the approval of the construction of nearly 3,500 units in the E1 corridor, which would connect the city of Ma’ale Adumim to Jerusalem, was taken off the agenda on Monday and postponed to a September session. The subject of E1 was also pulled from the committee’s order of business back in February.
However, at the same time, it remains to be seen what the Israeli government will do in regard to a High Court of Justice order that it must report on its plans to relocate the Bedouin living in the illegal E1 encampment known as Khan al-Ahmar, alongside Highway 1 between Jerusalem and the Dead Sea. That order is, in fact, set for the exact date the president is set to touchdown at Ben-Gurion International Airport.
Israel’s High Court has ruled on six separate occasions that Khan al-Ahmar must be evacuated, as it was constructed illegally on land belonging to the nearby community of Kfar Adumim.
The current situation on the ground in E1, including the geopolitical and security aspects of Israel’s building plan there and its implications, was the subject of a press tour this week, run by Media Central in conjunction with Regavim.
All governments starting with the Rabin administration in the 1990s have expressed the importance of preventing Jerusalem’s isolation from the east through strategic building in E1.
However, Naomi Kahn, director of the International Division of Regavim, told JNS that “for far too long, Israeli governments have cowered under the pressure exerted by our so-called allies, signatories and witnesses, and supposed champions of the Oslo framework. Rather than taking advantage of the new-old understanding that is dawning on European governments that territorial jurisdiction is vital for the security and sovereignty of democracies, the government of Israel is once again backing away from taking the necessary steps to protect our vital interests—steps that it has both the right, the means and the mandate to take without delay.”
‘Pawns in a political game’
At a lookout point in Ma’ale Adumim, Rafael Engel, deputy head of the Binyamin Regional Council, told the group that “the only location in this area that is not covered in dense construction is E1. And it’s the only remaining corridor between Jerusalem and our eastern border.”
He said that “if we don’t want Israel’s capital to be cut off, then building in E1 fulfills that strategic need.”
Pointing towards the tall but visibly vacant apartment buildings in the nearby Arab village of al-Eizariya, which is located in Area B (Israeli military and Palestinian Authority civilian control), Engel said that the buildings were empty, as the P.A. leadership doesn’t allow Arabs to move in, but rather encourages them to build illegal shanty towns outward from the village into Area C in order to take over more strategic swaths of land.
“These people are pawns in a political game,” he said. “The municipality must let them move into the legal areas of the town.”
That political game, noted Kahn, is the reason that Khan al-Ahmar has become the symbol of the P.A.’s 2009 “Fayad Plan,” a strategic building initiative illegally supported through millions of euros by the European Union and E.U. nations, to create a de facto Palestinian State in Area C, which is currently under full Israeli control without the need for negotiations as stipulated in previous agreements.
Kahn elaborated, saying “the P.A. ‘incentivizes’ population transfer into Area C through direct payments, stipends, scholarships and tuition waivers; waivers for licensing fees; and more. The goal of this population transfer is to shift the demographic balance in Area C, particularly in areas around Jerusalem.”
She added that “these efforts have created an impossible living situation and a pressure-cooker effect that harms the Arab residents of these areas, uses them as political pawns and exacerbates the conflict rather than resolving it.”
‘This is our land’
On a hilltop overlooking Khan al-Ahmar, Boaz Ido, head of the Jerusalem Environs Forum—an umbrella organization representing Jewish communities in the area—stated that “the Bedouin here are my neighbors. I live with water, electricity and sewage, and they live with nothing. They live in substandard conditions. We, the communities in the area, are trying to change that. For 10 years, we have tried to be good neighbors to them.”
However, Ido pointed out that while the government has offered various alternative housing sites for the residents of Khan al-Ahmar, “the problem is the P.A. won’t let them leave.”
He added, “If they [the residents] were honest with you, they would admit that they want to start a new life with better living conditions.”
Ido told JNS that “this whole issue could be solved if they were able to move to one of the approved alternate sites, including near the village of Abu Dis, just outside Jerusalem.”
But the Israeli government is not blameless, said Ido, for failing to uphold the ruling of the courts. “They are afraid of the whole world, including the United States. I don’t understand why, I really don’t know,” he lamented.
A visit with local council member and Mayor of al-Eizariya Muhammad Khalil Abu al-Rish and some of his staff members provided a completely different picture. Abu al-Rish accused Israel of “limiting the borders of our town. We can’t expand to accommodate our increasing population,” he said.
On a hilltop inside al-Eizariya overlooking the E1 corridor, the mayor said that he is completely against Israel’s E1 project since his proposed 2,500-dunam expansion proposal into Area C—as part of a 3,600-dunam master plan for his town—would extend into the very area Israel wants to build on. That proposal has not received approval.
“We are still waiting for a positive answer, so I hope E1 isn’t approved. This is our land,” he said. “It’s almost as if we are asking them [Israel] to give back some of our land.”
Israel in the News