Israel has reportedly approved a budget for the construction of the so-called Eastern Ring Road in the occupied West Bank, known by activists and rights groups as the “Apartheid road.”
The road, part of Israel’s plans of developing the controversial E1 corridor, has been denounced as an attempt to further expand illegal Israeli settlement construction in the occupied Palestinian territory, while deepening the separation between Palestinian communities on opposite sides of Israel’s separation wall.
According to a statement released by Israeli rights group Ir Amim on Monday, the development of the road is “one of several developments necessary for preparing the ground for E1.”
The reports emerged from Israeli media outlet Israel Hayom, which stated that the road is expected to be opened to Israeli traffic in the next 10 months.
According to rights groups, settlement construction in E1 would effectively divide the West Bank and make the creation of a contiguous Palestinian state — as envisaged by the internationally backed two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict — almost impossible.
Israeli activity in E1 has attracted widespread international condemnation, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has in the past said that “E1 is a red line that cannot be crossed.”
However, the Eastern Ring Road was proposed by former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon as a plan to apparently solve the issue of bifurcating the West Bank, by facilitating “navigation from Ramallah to Bethlehem for Palestinians but without any access to Jerusalem.”
Following the second Palestinian intifada and Israel’s construction of the separation wall that has disjointed Palestinian territory, Palestinians from the “West Bank side” of the separation barrier have been forced to obtain Israeli-issued permits in order to access occupied East Jerusalem, which some Palestinians and the international community still consider to be the future capital of an independent Palestinian state.
A map released by Ir Amim shows the expected route of the road. According to the group, the road would “ease access” for Israeli settlers residing around Ramallah in contravention of international law, as settlers have “long exerted pressure to open the road, complaining about traffic jams and delays.”
Ir Amim pointed out that Israel’s plan would enable further expansions of Israel’s illegal settlements around Ramallah.
The road is also planned to connect with Road 1 that connects the mega settlement Maale Adumim with Jerusalem, and would also link to the Mount Scopus Tunnel Road through the Zeitim interchange, another controversial E1 related project that Israeli authorities had begun construction on several months ago, according to Ir Amim.
According to an earlier report released by Ir Amim, the Zeitim interchange is located between Jerusalem and Maale Adumim, and would connect the Eastern Ring Road in the northern West Bank to road 417, leading to the south.
The group highlighted in the report that connecting these roads is “a crucial part in realizing the E1 plans,” as Israeli settlement construction in the E1 corridor would prevent Palestinians in the West Bank from using road 437, which “connects to road 417 and enables Palestinian traffic between the northern and southern West Bank.”
The plans aim to replace road 437 with the northern section of the Eastern Ring Road, which would divert Palestinian traffic away from road 437 and the E1 area” and would establish separate lanes for Israeli and Palestinian traffic, thus its label as an “apartheid road.”
Israel’s plans in E1 have long been denounced by rights groups and the international community since its approval in 1999, in the wake of the Oslo Accords which expected the area of E1 to be transferred to the Palestinian Authority (PA) within an interim period of five years.
Another central aspect of Israel’s development plans in the area includes the full eviction and relocation of Bedouin communities residing in E1, near Maale Adumim.
This plan was furthered earlier this year when Israeli authorities delivered demolition notices to every single home in the Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar, including the village’s elementary school. The village is located on the site of planned Israeli settlement development and on the Israeli side of the planned route of Israel’s separation barrier.
Rights groups and Bedouin community members have sharply criticized Israel’s relocation plans for the Bedouin residing near Maale Adumim, claiming that the removal would displace indigenous Palestinians for the sake of expanding Israeli settlements.
Bedouin villages in the area also face routine demolitions by Israeli forces.
Since the E1 corridor is part of Area C — the more than 60 percent of the West Bank under full Israeli military control and where Israel’s settlements are planned, the Palestinians living there face routine attempts by Israeli authorities to push them off the land.
Khan al-Ahmar is one of 46 villages comprising of a population of 7,000 — 70 percent of whom are Palestinian refugees — in the central West Bank that are considered by the UN as being at risk of forcible transfer by Israeli authorities to alternative sites, in violation of international law.
In addition, Israeli rights group B’Tselem has noted in the past that plans to develop the E1 corridor would also further isolate Palestinians straddled between the “West Bank side” of the separation barrier and those in occupied East Jerusalem, by “enclosing East Jerusalem from the East and linking it up with Israeli neighborhoods built north of the Old City.”
As East Jerusalem used to be the primary urban center for Palestinians in the West Bank, the E1 plans would further exacerbate a Palestinian-Palestinian separation that has wreaked havoc on Palestinian economic, social, and political life.