Israel Confirms Plan to Seize Selected West Bank Land for Barrier
by Greg Myre
New York Times, reprinted in Israeli & Global News
August 24, 2005
JERUSALEM, Aug. 24 - Israeli officials confirmed Wednesday that the government had issued orders to seize West Bank land needed to extend the separation barrier around the largest Jewish settlement, Maale Adumim, and link it to Jerusalem.
The Palestinian leadership said the developments confirmed its fears that Israel would try to use the Gaza withdrawal, and the international good will it has generated, to consolidate its hold on the large settlement blocs in the West Bank. Israel evacuated the last of nearly 9,000 Jewish settlers from Gaza on Monday, and cleared out two West Bank settlements on Tuesday.
"We wanted the day after the Gaza withdrawal to be a day of hope and of reviving the peace process," said Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator. "But this is a signal that Israel intends to pre-empt and prejudge issues that are supposed to be negotiated."
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's cabinet agreed in principle in February that Maale Adumim, which has nearly 30,000 residents and is about three miles east of Jerusalem, would be included inside the West Bank separation barrier. Israel also plans to build an additional 3,500 houses and apartments in the settlement.
Last week, the Israeli authorities ordered the expropriation of some of the land needed to build the barrier, according to the Civil Administration, which oversees Israel's activities in the West Bank. This order covers about 10 miles along the southern part. The Israeli authorities confirmed the move after it was reported in Wednesday's issue of the daily Haaretz.
Israel says the West Bank barrier is needed to prevent Palestinian suicide bombings, and the number of attacks has dropped sharply since it began constructing it in the most vulnerable areas three years ago.
But Palestinians say the barrier must not be built inside the West Bank on land they are seeking for a future state. The International Court of Justice at The Hague, in an advisory ruling, sided with the Palestinians last year.
Even the United States, Israel's staunchest ally, has raised concerns about constructing the barrier inside the West Bank, and the Bush administration has criticized the Maale Adumim section of the barrier in particular.
Maale Adumim is in effect a large Jewish suburb to the east of Jerusalem, and the barrier in this area is extremely contentious. It would cut deep into the West Bank, sealing off Palestinians in East Jerusalem.
"Once this is built, it is not clear how freely Palestinians in East Jerusalem will be able to work, travel, visit family and interact with Palestinians in the West Bank," said David Shearer, head of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, which is monitoring the issue.
The cities of Ramallah, Jerusalem and Bethlehem are contiguous, and Palestinians generally moved freely among them until Israel responded to the Palestinian uprising that began five years ago with a web of restrictions on Palestinian movements. The parts of the barrier that have already been built have made it more difficult to go from one city to the next.
Israel, which captured East Jerusalem in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, claims all of Jerusalem as its capital, a position not recognized internationally. The Palestinians want a future capital in the eastern part of the city.
In Jerusalem's Old City, where violence has been relatively rare, a Palestinian attacker stabbed two young ultra-Orthodox Jewish men Wednesday night, killing one and wounding the other, said the police, who were searching for the assailant.
Also on Wednesday, Israeli undercover operatives killed three Palestinians in the Tulkarm refugee camp, according to Israeli news sources. According to the reports, one of the dead, Ribhi Amara, was a leader of Islamic Jihad, the militant Palestinian faction.
In Gaza, Israeli soldiers worked to wrap up the military phase of the Gaza withdrawal, and the defense minister said all but a small number of soldiers could be removed from the territory by mid-September.
Soldiers are tearing down more than 1,500 settler homes and removing equipment from military bases. Israel's defense minister, Shaul Mofaz, said Wednesday that he believed those operations could be wrapped up by mid-September, after which most Israeli soldiers could be withdrawn from Gaza.
Following this, the Israelis will formally hand over the settlements to the Palestinians, though no date has been set.
Mr. Mofaz also announced agreement on plans for the Israeli military to withdraw from Gaza's southern border, with Egypt beefing up its side with 750 troops to prevent weapons smuggling by Palestinians.
"This agreement ultimately gives comprehensive, and I emphasize comprehensive, responsibility to the Egyptians regarding the prevention of weapons smuggling," he said in an interview on the Army radio.
The border plan still needs approval from Mr. Sharon's cabinet and the Israeli Parliament, and Israeli military officials have tentatively set the end of the year as a target date for removing the last troops.