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Sunday, November 07, 2010

Oy vey! High-speed rail line cuts through disputed territories

For years now, we Jerusalemites have been promised a high speed rail connection to Tel Aviv. Many of us are familiar with the pitch: It will start in Ramot on the northern end of the city and will reach Tel Aviv in 28 minutes. Given that the current train starts near the Malcha mall at the southern end of the city, requires a change in Beit Shemesh and takes about 90 minutes to get to Tel Aviv, this would be a massive improvement for rail commuters.

They've even started building the rail line. You can see a picture of it above. But over at al-AP, they're very upset about the rail line. You see, they think they've discovered that the rail line runs through the disputed territories.
Left-wing critics stated that the planned rail route violates international law because the construction has seized Palestinian land and won't serve Palestinian residents of the West Bank.

The Palestinian Authority will "resort to all legal and possible diplomatic methods to try to end this violation of Palestinian rights," spokesman Ghassan Khatib said. He called on foreign companies to withdraw from the project.

Companies from Italy and Russia, the latter state-owned, are helping build the line, and a subsidiary of Germany's state railway provided a technical opinion for one segment, albeit inside Israel, according to Israel Railways.

Israeli government officials say they have taken steps to ensure that the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem line would one day benefit Palestinians. Transport Ministry spokesman Avner Ovadiah said planning has begun on an extension that would connect Gaza with the city of Ramallah, the West Bank's center of commerce and government. .

But researcher Dalit Baum said that idea is "a cynical ploy that is only suggested in order to justify this train route as legal." Baum wrote a report on the project published this week by an Israeli watchdog group, the Coalition of Women for Peace.

Most of the six-kilometer (nearly four-mile) stretch of the railway inside the West Bank runs through tunnels.

However, Israel is taking Palestinian lands, some of them privately owned, for tunnel portals and access roads, Baum said. Most of the land belongs to the Palestinian villages of Beit Iksa and neighboring Beit Surik, whose residents have already been separated from some of their lands by the Israel's security barrier.

The train line will run on the Israeli side of the barrier.

Omar Hamdan, the Beit Iksa mayor, said the villagers only found out about the plans to lay the tracks through their lands last year when they were alerted by Israeli peace activists. By then, it was too late to object, he said.

Israel's Civil Administration, a branch of the Israeli military responsible for planning permits in the West Bank, said while the West Bank segments for the rail line have been approved in principle, land expropriation orders for Beit Iksa have not yet been issued. Officials said villagers would still have a chance to object once that happens. Local officials estimated at least dozens of acres of Palestinian land would be affected.

Work has already started in the West Bank in parts near Beit Surik and Beit Iksa. The first stretch of the 34-mile (56-kilometer) rail line has been completed, starting at Ben Gurion Airport and running inside Israel.

Planning for the high-speed line began in the mid-1990s, but was repeatedly delayed by objections from environmental groups and local residents.

Originally, the train line was to run within Israeli territory on the edge of Mevasseret Zion, a Jerusalem suburb abutting the West Bank. But after residents objected, the line was moved 300 meters (yards) to the north, into the West Bank, cutting through the lands of two Palestinian villages.

"The Israeli planners decided to move the route into the military occupation's jurisdiction to avoid having to negotiate a compromise with Israeli citizens," Baum wrote in her report.

A second segment was planned from the start to take a shortcut through a part of the West Bank that juts into Israel near the Latrun area.
Let me let you in on a few secrets. Ramot, where the train is due to have its Jerusalem terminus... is beyond the 1949 armistice lines.

Mevasseret Tziyon is partly built (maybe even mostly)... beyond the 1949 armistice lines.

Beit Ikhsa (a name beloved to Israeli children for the last 43 years - Ikhsa means Yuck in Hebrew) is that village that you see overlooking the Jerusalem - Tel Aviv highway between Ramot and Mevasseret on your right as you're leaving Jerusalem. It's kind of hard to believe that any Israeli government could give it away.

And as to the train route around Latrun (where the picture was taken - I know that spot well)... it's right near Highway 1, the main Jerusalem - Tel Aviv highway which - guess what - runs through disputed territories for about eight kilometers near Latrun.

Mind you, other than Ramot, which is included in Jerusalem, I have never heard any of these issues raised in 'peace talks.' But reality is that there is no way Israel is going to undertake to divert highway 1 around that eight kilometer stretch (it would take years, would cost a fortune, and would wreak havoc with out traffic), and if those eight kilometers of a highway can be tolerated, six kilometers of a rail line could be tolerated as well.

The borders have been as they are for 43 years, and there is no way we can go back to 1967. If the 'Palestinians' cannot acknowledge that reality, there will never be a peace agreement.

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At 10:58 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

This is land by the way, which even the leftist Labor and Kadima governments have said in the past would be a part of Israel in any final peace agreement. So how does building the high speed rail prejudice Palestinian interests? It doesn't. And AP doesn't get it.


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