Mission & Name
US Foreign Policy (Dr. El-Najjar's Articles)
US Funds Israel's Apartheid Roads Plan:
Settlers Benefit from Israeli-Only Routes
By Jonathan Cook
Redress, Al-Jazeerah, ccun.org, May 17, 2010
Jonathan Cook reports that a US government aid agency is
financing the construction of Jews-only apartheid roads in the
illegally-occupied West Bank, contrary to Washington’s pledge not to assist
in implementing Israel’s “apartheid road” plan and its oft-stated goal to
establish a viable Palestinian state with territorial contiguity.
construction of sections of a controversial segregated road network in the
West Bank planned by Israel for Palestinians – leaving the main roads for
exclusive use by Jewish settlers – is being financed by a US government aid
agency, a map prepared by Palestinian researchers has revealed.
USAid, which funds development projects
in Palestinian areas, is reported to have helped to build 114 killometres of
Israeli-proposed roads, despite a pledge from Washington six years ago that
it would not assist in implementing what has been widely described as
Israel’s “apartheid road” plan.
To date the agency has paid for the
construction of nearly a quarter of the segregated road network put forward
by Israel in 2004, said the Applied Research
Institute of Jerusalem (ARIJ).
"...Israel has reserved an increasing number of main roads in the West
Bank for Israelis so that Jewish settlers can drive more easily and quickly
into Israel, making their illegal communities more attractive places to
The roads are designed to provide alternative routes to connect
Palestinian communities, often by upgrading circuitous dirt tracks or by
building tunnels under existing routes.
Meanwhile, according to human rights groups, Israel has reserved an
increasing number of main roads in the West Bank for Israelis so that Jewish
settlers can drive more easily and quickly into Israel, making their illegal
communities more attractive places to live.
The US agency’s
involvement in building a segregated West Bank road infrastructure would run
counter to Washington’s oft-stated goal, including as it launched “proximity
talks” last week, to establish a viable Palestinian state with territorial
“The displacement of Palestinians from the West Bank’s
main roads improves the appeal of the settlements by better integrating them
into Israel,” said Suheil Khalilieh, the head of settlement monitoring at
ARIJ. “Conversely, creating an inferior, alternative network of local roads
makes travel between the main regions of the West Bank difficult and
time-consuming for Palestinians.”
Israel proposed the creation of two
separate road systems in 2004, after many of the West Bank’s main roads had
been sealed off to Palestinians following the outbreak of the second
Ariel Sharon, the then-prime minister, argued that
segregated infrastructure would create “contiguity of transportation” for
Palestinians and help to alleviate economic hardship resulting from hundreds
of roadblocks and checkpoints that restrict Palestinian movement.
international community was asked to finance 500 km of roads for the
Palestinians, later termed “fabric of life” roads, including upgrading
agricultural tracks and constructing many underpasses and bridges, at a cost
of 200 million US dollars.
The Palestinian Authority, however,
objected, saying the plan would further entrench the illegal settlements in
the West Bank and justify confiscating yet more Palestinian land for the new
That position was backed by international donors, including
the US, which declared it would not finance any road projects against the
"...the growing dependence of Palestinian traffic on
underpasses meant that Israel was in a position to control or even sever
connections between Palestinian areas with only one military jeep."
Despite the US promise, however, a map of the West Bank recently published
by ARIJ shows that 23 per cent of the “alternative” road network Israel
proposed has been built with USAid money.
Many of these roads are located
in so-called Areas B and C, more than 80 per cent of the West Bank that was
assigned to Israeli security control by the Oslo accords. Israel oversees
all road projects in these areas.
Mr Khalilieh said the PA was being
effectively bullied into conceding the road infrastructure wanted by Israel.
“What happens is that USAid presents a package deal of donations for
infrastructure projects in the West Bank and the Palestinians are faced with
a choice of take it or leave it. That way the PA is cornered into accepting
roads it does not want.”
He said some roads were also being approved
because of a lack of oversight by the PA. An inter-ministerial committee to
vet proposed roads to ensure they did not contribute to the Israeli plan had
been inactive since 2006, he said, following the split between Fatah and
Hamas in the Palestinian elections.
After PA officials were presented
with ARIJ’s map, Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian prime minister, issued a
statement last weekend denying that the PA had contributed to the
Israeli-proposed road network.
However, in a sign that such
reassurances were unlikely to dampen concerns, he reconvened the
inter-ministerial committee to conduct field visits to check on road
projects that had been carried out or were in progress.
Khatib, a Palestinian government spokesman and a former planning minister,
said the PA was taking the issue “very seriously” and was doing everything
possible to resist the emergence of an “apartheid system” in the West Bank.
He added that, if roads were being built that served the settlers’
interests, “that is not supposed to happen”.
According to USAid’s
figures, it has financed 235 km of roads in the West Bank in the past
decade, and is preparing to add another 120km by the end of this year.
“Sadly, the Palestinian Authority is helping to build its own Bantustans...
Palestinian towns and villages connected by back roads and tunnels while the
settlers control the main highways is what the US appears to mean when it
talks about a viable Palestinian state.”
Ingrid Jaradat Gassner, the
director of Badil
Critics add that in some cases the upgrading by USAid
of minor roads, even those not included in the Israeli plan, has worked to
the same end of keeping Palestinians off the West Bank’s main highways.
USAid officials were unavailable for comment.
Among roads for
Palestinians funded by USAid are several projects south of Bethlehem that
appear to be providing an “alternative” to Road 60, a busy highway that has
traditionally linked Jerusalem with the Palestinian cities of Bethlehem and
Hebron in the southern West Bank.
Israel has increasingly restricted
Palestinian access to Road 60 because it also serves as a fast direct route
for Jewish settlers in the Gush Etzion bloc driving to and from Jerusalem.
As a result, residents of several nearby Palestinian villages, including
Batir, Wadi Fuqeen, Al-Walaja
and Husan, have been forced off Road 60 and on to USAid-funded side roads
and underpasses to connect them to Bethlehem and other neighbouring
Sarit Michaeli, a spokeswoman for
B’Tselem, an Israeli
human rights group, said 170 km of roads in the West Bank were either
off-limits to Palestinians or highly restricted, creating what the
organization has called “forbidden roads”.
B’Tselem noted that, after
the 2004 scheme for complete separation was rejected by donors, Israel
adapted the plan, using bridges, tunnels and interchanges to create partial
separation, with Israelis “traveling on the fast upper levels, and
Palestinians on the lower levels”. It concluded: “The plan allows
Palestinian vehicles to travel on only 20 per cent of the [West Bank] roads
on which Israeli vehicles travel.”
Ms Michaeli added that the growing
dependence of Palestinian traffic on underpasses meant that Israel was in a
position to control or even sever connections between Palestinian areas with
only one military jeep.
Ingrid Jaradat Gassner, the director of
Badil, a Bethlehem-based organization
that has lobbied against road segregation in the southern West Bank, said
there was considerable domestic and international pressure on the PA to
agree to roads dictated by Israel, if only because they often eased the
existing restrictions on Palestinian movement.
“Sadly, the PA is
helping to build its own Bantustans,” she said. “Palestinian towns and
villages connected by back roads and tunnels while the settlers control the
main highways is what the US appears to mean when it talks about a viable
Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in
Nazareth, Israel. His latest books are “Israel and the Clash of
Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto
Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel's Experiments in Human Despair”
(Zed Books). His website is www.jkcook.net.
A version of this article originally appeared in
The National, published in Abu
Dhabi. The version on this website is published by permission of Jonathan