“We’re building a highway, and we need some of the Israeli-controlled land.” This is the latest demand made upon Israel by the Palestinian Authority, following the start of construction on a new PA city in the heart of southern Shomron (Samaria).
The new city - the first planned city in PA-controlled areas - is to be located between the Jewish communities of Shilo and Ateret, just west of the major Highway 60 leading from Nazareth to Be’er Sheva. The name of the new town is Rawabi, meaning Hills, and is designed to house between 25,000 and 40,000 Arab residents in its first stage – and 200,000 when it is completed. It is a private enterprise, with funding from Qater and businessman Bashar Massar of Shechem (Nablus).
The new city is to be located some nine kilometers north of Ramallah, between the Arab villages of Atara and Jiljilya. The closest Jewish community is Ateret, and residents there are duly concerned.
“As of now, there is Arab contiguity from Ramallah to Birzeit,” a leading resident of Ateret told Israel National News, “and this essentially breaks up the Binyamin Regional Council into eastern and western halves. Building an Arab city, of course, deepens this split.”
“The four-lane highway that the PA wishes to build in the direction of Ramallah will have to cross our main artery, Road 465, which is the main highway used by residents of Beit El, Ofrah, and other parts of eastern Binyamin to reach central Israel.”
Ateret is a growing Jewish town, despite the difficulties. It has grown in the past six years from 55 families to 100, and more are scheduled to be moving in this coming summer. The “construction freeze” caught the town as it was about to build a new neighborhood. One of its main attractions is the musical yeshiva high school Kinor David.
Israel Had No Say
In effect, Israel had no say in the construction of the city, as it is being built in what the Olso Accords denote as Areas A (full PA control) and B (PA administrative control, Israeli security control). The planned highway between Rawabi and Ramallah, too, passes almost exclusively in these areas – except for a short stretch around Highway 465.
Israel Not Agreeing to Give Land for Highway - So Far
The PA has asked Israel to grant Area A status to that stretch, but Israel’s defense establishment is against it, in order not to detach western Binyamin from eastern Binyamin. However, the paving of the road will apparently receive Israeli permission - though as of now the PA is refusing to pave the highway, or even to request permission to do so, until Israel agrees to place the planned route in Area A. Israel sees this as a precedent for seemingly innocuous internal PA plans to lead to demands that increase pressure on Israel to give up land.
Another issue is that of land ownership and use. With the permission of the Civil Administration, and the active cooperation of the Jewish National Fund, forestland has been planted practically up to the borders of Ateret. “And we know that where there is legal building, there is also illegal building,” an Ateret source said, “and we see that this is beginning already. In addition to taking land that could be used for Jewish growth, this is a security danger as well.”
A highly-placed source in Ateret said he has heard that the PA highway will pass under Road 465, and not over it, “but this is not official… What is needed, though, is at least that our important highway be improved; it needs better lighting, new paving, and proper signs. We know that the Road Works Department has put us on its schedule, but work has not yet started.”
“There are some who view our highway as dangerous. That was true before Operation Defensive Shield in 2002. But since then, there has been only one shooting incident. If people are hesitant to drive on this highway, it’s only a psychological bloc.”