Tel Aviv. Israeli Defense Minister Naftali Bennett wants to push ahead with settlement expansion in the occupied West Bank. To this end, he has approved the construction of a controversial underground road for Palestinians east of Jerusalem.
Palestinians could take the underground road between A-Saim villages and Anata area without having to travel to the Maale Adumim settlement block, a defense ministry statement said Monday. This in turn enables the construction of “Jewish settlements” in the so-called area E1.
The Israeli peace organization Peace Now sharply criticized the plans. Area E1 is particularly sensitive to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, since it divides the West Bank into a northern and a southern half. It is among the 60 percent of the West Bank that is under full Israeli control. Peace Now wrote in a statement that the planned road would allow Israel to build the barrier around Maale Adumim and annex the settlement block.
The wall is very controversial and cuts the rights of the Palestinians, but since its construction, the particularly severe attacks in the Israeli heartland have subsided drastically. According to Peace Now, Israel had not been able to advance the construction of the barrier at this point because the Palestinians would no longer have a connection between the northern and southern West Banks.
The Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs criticized the road as “transforming the Palestinian communities into isolated areas in the middle of a huge block of settlements linked by roads.” This would enable Israel to cut off the locations of East Jerusalem and “once and for all close the door to establishing a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as the capital.”
Israel’s settlement policy is highly controversial. At the end of 2016, the UN Security Council called on Israel to completely freeze settlement in the occupied Palestinian territories, including East Jerusalem. Settlements were described in UN Resolution 2334 as a violation of international law and a major obstacle to peace in the Middle East.
Israel conquered the West Bank and East Jerusalem, among others, during the Six Day War in 1967. The Palestinians, on the other hand, want to establish an independent state in Palestine with East Jerusalem as the capital.
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