With pullout past, IDF moves to fence Ma’aleh Adumim

The Israel Defense Forces and the Civil Administration began issuing land expropriation orders this weekend for construction of the separation fence around Ma’aleh Adumim, after Attorney General Menachem Mazuz gave the bulk of the route a legal seal of approval. The United States strongly opposes construction of a fence around the large West Bank settlement, arguing that it would impede the establishment of a viable Palestinian state by making it hard to move between the northern and southern West Bank. Though the general fence route in this area was approved by the cabinet in February, ministers have not seen the detailed plans that the Civil Administration presented to local Palestinian mayors Tuesday. At the February meeting, the ministers were told that the exact route would depend on the Justice Ministry’s approval. Interior Minister Ophir Pines-Paz (Labor) complained Tuesday that the final route should have been shown to the cabinet before construction began. But Minister Haim Ramon, also of Labor, said that as long as the final route did not differ significantly from the route approved in February, he does not see a problem. According to the Justice Ministry, the portions of the route approved to date – some of which will be built on state land, and some on private Palestinian land – are not substantially different from the original. Mazuz has thus far approved the western and southern sections of the route and part of the eastern section; he is still examining the remainder. The planned route would put the easternmost point of the fence around Ma’aleh Adumim some 25 kilometers from the Green Line, or about half the width of the West Bank. Both the Palestinians and the international community say it would therefore prevent the establishment of a viable Palestinian state, as it would impede territorial contiguity between the southern and northern West Bank. As a result, diplomatic sources in Jerusalem said that the expropriation orders issued this weekend „are being carefully examined by the most senior officials in the American administration,” and the issue is likely to be raised at Wednesday’s meeting between Finance Minister Ehud Olmert and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. But Ramon, a leading supporter of the fence, rejected the accusation that it would impede Palestinian territorial contiguity. This issue could be resolved, he said, if Israel simply built a new road connecting Bethlehem to Ramallah, thereby ensuring that the West Bank would not be cut in two. Hind Khouri, the Palestinian Authority’s minister for Jerusalem, said that in total, expropriation orders have been issued for 1,588 dunams in the area of Al-Azzariyeh, Abu Dis and Sawahra al-Sharkiyeh. Moreover, she said, the planned route would leave grazing grounds, olive groves and some 250 wells that serve the Palestinian population on the Israeli side of the fence. According to the cabinet’s decision, the fence around Ma’aleh Adumim is slated to put some 67 square kilometers of the West Bank on the Israeli side. Salah Bader, head of the Palestinian liaison office for the Jerusalem area, said that the PA plans to appeal the route to the Israeli courts. „It will put us in prison,” he said. „The distance between the existing wall west of Al-Azzariyeh, which separates it from Jerusalem, and the new fence to be built east of Al-Azzariyeh will not exceed two kilometers. There’s more space than that in Ketziot Prison.” Lawyer Danny Seidemann of the Ir Amim organization said that Israel was exploiting the withdrawal from Gaza to build the fence around Ma’aleh Adumim. A similar assessment was offered by attorney Mohammed Dahla, who has represented many Palestinians in petitions to the High Court of Justice against the fence. The Justice Ministry rejected this charge. Colonel (res.) Shaul Arieli, who drew the maps for the Geneva Initiative and has successfully persuaded the High Court to change the fence’s route in several places, said the proposed route around Ma’aleh Adumim would cause tens of thousands of Palestinians in the area to relocate to Jerusalem. BPI-info