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Monday, October 16, 2006

Urban planning with geopolitical implications

Almost exactly one year ago, Ephraim Inbar wrote an op-ed in the Jerusalem Post, in which he argued for immediately populating the desert area between Jerusalem and Ma'aleh Adumim, which is known as E-1, with Jews:
The real test that lies ahead for Ariel Sharon is linking Ma'aleh Adumim to Jerusalem by building in Area E-1. The fate of the Jewish state depends largely upon Sharon's ability to take immediate action and populate E-1 with thousands of Jews.

Ma'aleh Adumim serves as the linchpin in establishing an effective line of defense along the Jordan River Valley against aggression from the East. Building a Jewish-populated corridor to Ma'aleh Adumim would prevent the division of Jerusalem and secure the only safe route via which Israel could mobilize troops from the coast to the Jordan Valley in case of emergency.

Jerusalem's importance to the Jews is not only historical and religious. The city also holds strategic importance in controlling the only highway from the coast of the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River Valley along which Jews can travel with little interference from Arab population concentrations.
But Sharon, and later his gutless successor Ehud Olmert, backed off of E-1. Instead, Olmert will build west of the city, destroying most of the few open green areas in the Jerusalem environs. Today, the Jerusalem Post confirms what we all suspected all along: the only motivation for building west of the city is the fear of foreign reaction to building to the east. Because Israel is afraid to confront its friends and foes and do what is best for it, Jerusalem residents will forfeit for generations most of the vast forests that surround the city:
A controversial building plan, which would expand Jerusalem westward over the bitter objection of environmentalists, was only drawn up after the government made a political decision not to expand the city to the east, the plan's chief architect said Sunday.

The proposal, named after the internationally renowned architect Moshe Safdie who designed the original plan, would see the construction of 20,000 housing units on more than 26 square kilometers of natural woodlands and forests west of Jerusalem in one of the largest construction projects ever proposed in Israel.

"If the government had decided to make a building plan to the east of Jerusalem, they never would have approached me to make a plan for the expansion of the city westward," Safdie said in an interview with The Jerusalem Post.


Last month, in an unusual show of cross-party unity, 50 Knesset members from across the political spectrum joined forces in opposition to the plan. The parliamentarians who have signed the petition against the building plan come from all the Knesset parties, and include both left-wing and right-wing legislators, and a rare mix of secular, religious, and haredi parties.

The green groups who are opposed to the plan - in what has become the largest environmental struggle in Israel in years - presented the petition on Sunday to Interior Minister Roni Bar-On, and are planning a Tuesday morning protest outside the Interior Ministry offices adjacent to the Prime Minister's Office during the critical committee meeting.

The committee, which is an independent body, has 31 members, including eight public-appointed officials.


Safdie said that political reality indicated there was "very little" chance that the eastward expansion proposal would ever be approved, adding that its proposed size was also more limited.

He asserted that Ma'aleh Adumim was not in the national consensus - especially in world opinion -and that building between Jerusalem and Ma'aleh Adumim would cut off Palestinian territorial continuity in the West Bank.
For the record, Ma'aleh Adumim is one of the 'settlement blocs' that every government has promised us will remain part of Israel in any future agreement with the 'Palestinians.' And building eastward would mean building between Jerusalem and Ma'aleh Adumim. I don't know about the world, but it is definitely part of the Israeli national consensus that Ma'aleh Adumim remain part of Israel. And there's more wrong with this plan:
But a separate independent study, carried out last year by some of the city's senior researchers and demographers concluded that the plan is detrimental to the development of the city and will only serve to irrevocably weaken the capital.
It's not just the capital that will be weakened. Today's Jerusalem Post article largely ignores the security importance of building in E-1. As Inbar pointed out in his op-ed a year ago:
OBJECTIONS TO a Jewish presence in Area E-1 express concern for Palestinian contiguity, which is a deceptive argument. Free travel between Samaria and Judea can be arranged quite easily by constructing overpasses or tunnels. (Ironically, the Palestinians suggest precisely these arrangements in response to Israeli concerns regarding the Palestinian demand for a corridor between Gaza and Judea that would divide Israel in two, as Evelyn Gordon pointed out recently in these pages.)

The main issue, however, is Jerusalem. The Palestinians plan to settle E-1 with Arabs in order to create demographic contiguity between Samaria and east Jerusalem, thereby facilitating the division of the city. Such a development would also isolate Ma'aleh Adumim and undermine Israeli claims to the Jordan Valley. The only way to prevent the realization of these Palestinian plans is to populate E-1 with Jews.


ADVOCATES OF turning over the Jordan Valley to the Palestinians discount its topographical importance by referring to current military technology that allows precision strikes from a distance. They argue that the ability to launch defensive strikes from the coast eliminates the strategic need for the Jordan Valley as a means of defense. Yet these armchair strategists overlook the history of military technology, which shows a clear oscillation between the dominance of offensive and defensive measures over the centuries.

The belief that the technology of today, which indeed temporarily reduces the importance of topography, will remain unchallenged constitutes a dangerous strategic fallacy.

Designing stable defensible borders in accordance with current, but transient, technological state-of-the-art and political circumstances is strategically foolish. Therefore, if Israel wants to maintain a defensible border it needs to secure the road from the coast to the Jordan Valley, via an undivided Jerusalem and via Ma'aleh Adumim.
Israeli is endangering its national security and destoying its environment by bowing to political pressure. Maybe this time, with the environmentally conscious left's cooperation, the foolishness can be stopped.


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