Earlier this week, the Civil Administration announced that work would begin within a month on a new road running to the east of East Jerusalem from the vicinity of Az Zay'im to Al-Izzariyya (see red circle on map below). The new road will essentially extend Route 4370 (also known as the "Apartheid Road") southwards. Construction of the road, which Israel has wanted to advance for years, constitutes a major step in laying the groundwork for settlement building in the E1 area.
While portrayed as a road project to benefit Palestinians by expediting traffic and significantly reducing travel time between Ramallah and Bethlehem, it will in fact serve to completely reroute Palestinian traffic out of E1. Currently, the only road which facilitates Palestinian travel between the two West Bank centers runs through the E1 area. This limits Israel's ability to carry out its massive settlement plans in the vicinity, which would require blocking Palestinian access to the area. This new road along with Route 4370 will create an alternative corridor between Ramallah and Bethlehem, which would eliminate the need for Palestinians to drive through E1 altogether. Diverting Palestinian traffic thus removes one of the obstacles to settlement construction in E1 and should signal cause for heightened vigilance.
As previously reported, plans for a total of 3401 housing units in E1 were advanced and deposited for objections last February. Ir Amim together with Peace Now and the Association of Environmental Justice submitted objections in August 2020. Since then, however, the Civil Administration has yet to schedule a date for discussions on the plan, which would likely need the approval of the Minister of Defense and Prime Minister due to the acute political sensitivity of the area.
E1 has remained an international redline because of its dire ramifications to the viability of a two-state framework with two capitals in Jerusalem. Israeli construction in the E1 area would bisect the West Bank, driving a wedge between its northern and southern parts. It would likewise fracture the contiguous Palestinian space between East Jerusalem and the West Bank, dealing a death blow to the prospect of a viable Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital. Moreover, Israeli building within the area would lead to the expulsion of roughly 3,000 Palestinians living in small Bedouin communities in the area, the most well-known of which is Khan al-Ahmar.
Construction on this new road is therefore yet another link in advancing moves towards the de-facto annexation of "Greater Jerusalem."