The Americans are concerned about Tuesday’s ruling by the Jerusalem District Court that ordered Defense Minister Benny Gantz to hold deliberations on construction in the E1 area between Jerusalem and the suburb of Ma’aleh Adumim. Indeed, the Americans appear to be concerned that any construction in the area might advance in the slightest.
The U.S. State Department has long acted to ensure that development in the area between Ma’aleh Adumim and Jerusalem is confined to words on paper and ammunition for Israeli politicians, who for years have made empty promises on the issue. Nine prime ministers, including Ehud Olmert and the late Ariel Sharon, committed to construction in E1. However, fierce diplomatic pressure prevented anything from being built there outside of a district police station. Now, the left wing of Israel’s governing coalition is vetoing construction.
This is a strategic issue of the utmost importance. Those who support a Palestinian state oppose construction. Those who oppose a Palestinian state support it. E1 is the story of a tug-of-war in which Israel and the Palestinians compete for urban continuity. Israel appears to be seeking to create continuity from the west to the east and the Dead Sea. The Palestinians seek continuity from the north to the south—Ramallah to Bethlehem. The question is who will pull ahead and block the other.
In the meantime, the Palestinians are winning on the ground. They are preventing Israeli construction while, at the same time, methodically and consistently using illegal construction to limit Israelis’ ability to build along Highway 1 between Jerusalem and Jericho.
From the perspective of the Meretz and Ra’am parties, E1 is a red line. They note that even opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu refrained from building there when he was prime minister. What remains unclear is why E1 is not a red line for Yamina’s Ayelet Shaked and Nir Orbach or New Hope’s Ze’ev Elkin. The continued capitulation to American pressure on the matter could result in a security disconnect between Jerusalem and Ma’aleh Adumim that helps the Palestinians create a belt of construction that will encircle Jerusalem and block its development eastward.
Highway 1, which the Palestinians are trying to overrun through construction, is of security and strategic importance and necessary for leading convoys through the Jordan Valley northward in times of war. Last February, Gantz and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett froze talks on Palestinian and left-wing Israeli opposition to the E1 plan in the Civil Administration’s Higher Planning Committee. This week, following a petition from Ma’aleh Adumim Mayor Benny Kashriel, the State Attorney’s Office informed Gantz that talks on opposition to the plan would be held in July. Gantz may not like it, but he no longer has any choice. He will likely try to stall the plan in its later stages.
If elections are indeed on the horizon, everyone will soon be talking about the E1 plan. But unless we see construction there, we can be certain it is nothing more than political spin. In northern Jerusalem too, the so-called “change” government has stalled a large and important plan for Jewish homes in Atarot. This will also be on the agenda soon. Once again, we will believe it when we see it.
Jerusalem Day has come and gone. In both Atarot and E1, the diplomatic echelon, which just this week swore allegiance to Jerusalem, must prove their words were more than just lip service.
Nadav Shragai is an author and journalist.
This article was originally published by Israel Hayom.