The original version of this article was published in the Los Angeles Jewish Observer
|© Foundation for Middle East Peace|
Despite the new White House administration’s adamant refusal to accept any more settlement construction President Obama has allowed USAID to continue funding the segregated road network that links the settlements to Israel. This continues to be a major impediment to any meaningful progress towards a Palestinian State.
Both ‘Israeli’ only and ‘Palestinian only’ roads are growing throughout the West Bank , restricting Palestinians to ever smaller transportation options while allowing greater freedom for settlers throughout the Occupied Territories.
The Israeli-only roads facilitate high-speed transit from the settlements into Israel proper, enhancing the Israeli economy with the speedy passage of commercial products to market, and commuters to their jobs. Most settlers work inside Israel, and many ‘made in Israel’ export products are either manufactured or have value added, in settlement industrial zones and agricultural areas.
Israeli government policies are aimed at segregating Arab and Jewish traffic throughout most of the Occupied Territories and to create four Israeli-only highways cutting east/west and north/south corridors through the West Bank. The east/west annexed strips were on the Camp David 2000 maps that President Arafat rejected. Route 1 from Jerusalem to the Dead Sea is already complete. It will become segregated when the adjacent Arab road is completed through the E1 Zone between Jerusalem and the luxurious Central West Bank settlement of Ma’ale Adumim (pop. 35,000).
Route 5 from Tel Aviv was completed in 2008 as a segregated road to the settlement of Ariel (pop. 25,000) in the Central West Bank, and construction is continuing on the next phase to the Jordan Valley. Route 90 running the length of the Jordan Valley and Route 60 north and south from Jerusalem are also rapidly becoming restricted roads.
The Arab roads are lined with walls and barbed wire when they transit a settler zone. They connect Palestinian towns and villages through tunnels under the settler roads, and in one case, Gvat Ze’ev, under the settlement itself through a 400-meter (1,200 feet) tunnel. The segregated roads are even inside Jerusalem, connecting Palestinian ghetto neighborhoods to Ramallah. A notorious example is the walled-in community of Bir Naballa, a largely Bedouin Jerusalem suburb of about 7,000 people that was a major commercial center until the Israelis enclosed it and restricted access.
The Israeli government, and apparently the Obama administration, justify these roads since they enable Palestinians to travel between the enclaves without encountering checkpoints or settlers. This allows Israel to remove a few checkpoints, gaining political points, while containing the Palestinian population in essentially large open-air prisons while the settlements and their connecting roads continue to expand.
A USAID official in Israel recently argued that since the roads facilitate more efficient transportation between the Palestinian areas, the West Bank economy will improve and the Palestinian Authority will be strengthened. However this line of reasoning ignores the rationale for the roads in the first place, and supports the permanent institutionalization of the Israel’s Occupation infrastructure into an improved version of Apartheid, or ‘Hafrada’ as the Israeli government calls it. ‘Hafrada’ means separation in Hebrew, as ‘Apartheid’ means separation in Africaans.
Israel has established the ‘Geder Hafrada’ (Separation Wall), and ‘Kvishei Hafrada’ (Separation Roads). The roads separate Palestinians and Israelis in a manner that never existed in South Africa even at the height of Apartheid. All South Africans mingled on the roads, in the cities and the workplaces, despite the constitutional discrimination, travel restrictions, and violence.
The relationship between USAID and the Palestinian contractors who build the roads is also questionable. By providing millions of dollars per year to West Bank contractors the Obama administration is continuing relationships with companies affiliated with Palestinian Authority officials, awarding many contracts to their relatives and friends.
An April 22nd Reuter’s report detailed how over 2 million dollars in USAID contracts have been awarded to companies owned by Tarek Abbas and Yasser Mahmoud Abbas, sons of the Palestinian President. Colorado-based engineering giant CH2M HILL is also the prime contractor for many USAID projects in the West Bank and subcontracts to these local companies. USAID officials have stated that the contracts were awarded through competitive bidding.
All the agreements since the Oslo process in 1993 have stipulated that settlement expansion must cease. This has been a consistent theme From the Road Map, to the Annapolis Agreement to the Arab League Initiative to President Obama’s latest pronouncements. Yet the White House has been silent on the roads, and continues to allow USAID to fund them. One wonders why?
Fred Schlomka is an Israeli businessman and the proprietor of www.ToursinEnglish.com.
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