Understanding Israeli Interests in the E1 Area: Contiguity, Security, and Jerusalem

T. Belman. Netanyahu said in Washington that he prefers to extend sovereignty over Maaleh Adumin before doing so over the Jordan Valley.

By Nadav Shragai, JCPA

E1 Area

Why This Study Was Written

The Israeli building program known as E1 (East-1), situated between Jerusalem and Maale Adumim, has been on the Israeli and world agenda for twenty years. It is subject to a severe Israeli-Palestinian dispute and prompts strong international opposition. As a result, it has yet to be implemented.

On November 30, 2012, after long years in which Israel had almost completely frozen the program, a scaled-down forum of nine ministers of the Israeli government met and decided to renew the planning, approval, and construction processes in the E1 area. This decision was part of Israel’s reaction to the UN General Assembly resolution on recognizing the State of Palestine as an observer state that is not a full member of the United Nations.

Many countries displayed a total lack of understanding for Israel’s decision and condemned it, sometimes harshly. The White House spokesman, for example, said the program contravened U.S. policy and damaged the chances for a two-state solution. The Israeli ambassadors in Britain, France, Sweden, Spain, and Denmark were summoned for reprimands.1 In addition, fourteen of the fifteen members of the UN Security Council declared that the organization opposed Israel’s plans to build in E1. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Israel had taken a “dangerous path.”2

At the beginning of January 2013, a group of Palestinians, with the backing of the Palestinian Authority, set up a protest encampment in E1. Israel waited a few days and then, with Supreme Court approval, evacuated it.

The Israeli government and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected the criticism over the decision to build in E1. The Prime Minister’s Office affirmed that Israel would “continue to act in accordance with the vital interests of the State of Israel even in the face of international pressures, and there will be no change in the decision that has been taken.” Israel’s decision was also taken in light of the fact that, according to every past Israeli government, Maale Adumim must be retained by Israel, and the Palestinians have agreed to this in past negotiations. Therefore, the connection of Maale Adumim to Jerusalem needs to be addressed when planning the future of the area.

At the beginning of December 2012, the Supreme Planning Council for Judea and Samaria, part of the Civil Administration, began to implement the government’s decision. It decided to deposit the construction plans for two of the E1 residential neighborhoods for public approval, a significant stage in the succession of approvals that still await the plan. At the last minute, however, an order by the Prime Minister’s Office put a halt to this procedure, and so far the plan has not been deposited for public approval.

This study discusses the E1 plan, its great importance for the State of Israel, and its vicissitudes over the years. It refutes the claim that the plan would hinder the two-state solution, or prevent linkage between the populations of the northern and southern West Bank. It describes the longstanding consensus in Israel about the future of Maale Adumim and the vital link between Jerusalem and Maale Adumim, of which the E1 plan is an integral aspect; the place of the Adumim bloc in the concept of metropolitan Jerusalem; and the place of that concept in Israel’s approach to security and settlement.

The study also explains why avoiding building in E1 is dangerous to Israel’s interests, and likely to result in Maale Adumim and Jerusalem being severed from each other. At the same time, the report strongly criticizes the Israeli authorities’ failure over the years to eradicate the phenomenon of illegal Palestinian building in the area between Maale Adumim and Jerusalem. While this stems from concern for the reaction of the international community, it is gradually constricting Israel’s options in an area so vital for its future integrity.

As the study shows, the E1 area is located in Area C, the portion of the West Bank in which Israel has the powers of zoning and planning according to the Oslo II Interim Agreement.  In the last year, the Palestinian Authority has nonetheless undertaken development projects in Area C, some with EU financing.  Thus the situation on the ground is not static, and Israel will have to find a way to protect its vital interests, especially in this sensitive area, to the east of its capital.

The Essential Points
  1. The site for the E1 building plan extends over an area of about 12,000 dunams,most of it state land, northward and westward of the Jerusalem-Maale Adumim road. Through this plan, Israel wants to link Maale Adumim – a city established east of Jerusalem about thirty years ago, in which about 40,000 people now live – with the ridge of Mount Scopus within Jerusalem’s municipal jurisdiction. So far, owing to the opposition of the Palestinians and the international community, the plan has not been implemented.
  2. Three residential neighborhoods, as well as an area for commerce, industry, and hotels, are envisaged for E1. So far only two residential neighborhoods totaling 3,500 housing units have been planned. An additional residential neighborhood, the northern one, and the commercial-industrial zone, which is supposed to link E1 to Jerusalem, are frozen for planning and legal reasons unconnected to the political controversy over the program. A police station and a network of roads and infrastructure have, however, already been built in E1.
  3. All Israeli governments since Yitzhak Rabin’s second tenure as prime minister in the 1990s have supported the program, appreciating the need to create an Israeli urban continuity from Jerusalem to Maale Adumim, leading out to the Dead Sea and the Jordanian border. That need is incorporated in the Israeli security and urban planning concept, which views Jerusalem and its nearby Jewish communities as a single metropolitan space – “metropolitan Jerusalem.”
  4. The plan is, of course, embroiled in an intense international dispute centering on the position of the Palestinians, who seek to prevent what they call the bisection of the West Bank – which, they claim, would torpedo the option of a Palestinian state and preclude a sovereign and urban continuity between the northern and the southern West Bank.
  5. The United States backs the Palestinian position and acts to prevent Israel from building at the site, so long as a permanent settlement has not materialized.
  6. The Palestinians oppose both the plan and the solution that Israel proposes for ensuring transportation continuity between the northern and southern West Bank. The solution Israel is offering the Palestinians is the use of what is effectively a bypass road (the literal Hebrew term is “fabric-of-life road”). This road would pass between Maale Adumim to the east and Jerusalem to the west, allowing the Palestinians free movement from the Ramallah area to the Bethlehem area.
  7. The opposition to building in E1 and to the bypass road is unacceptable to Israel for the following reasons:
    1. In the area between Maale Adumim and Jerusalem, along the Jerusalem-Jericho road and in the E1 area, a considerable amount of illegal Palestinian building is in progress. This illegal activity has already significantly narrowed the corridor along which the central arterial road between Jerusalem and Maale Adumim runs – from two kilometers to one kilometer. The illegal building already threatens to sever and, in the future, preclude Israeli continuity between the two cities.
    2. Under the Oslo Agreements, zoning and planning in these areas (Area C) is under the jurisdiction of Israel. Thus, Palestinian construction without any building permit along a main Israeli artery of this sort is a violation of the signed bilateral agreement and is thus illegal.
    3. Israeli avoidance of creating settlement continuity between the Jerusalem area and the Maale Adumim area will inevitably give rise to another, competing, Palestinian continuity running north to south.
    4. Even today Israel has great difficulty counteracting such continuity because of the international community’s stance, which opposes any measures against the extensive illegal building in the area.
    5. One practical manifestation of the Israeli weakness is the lack of resolve of the State Attorney’s Office and the Civil Administration in the face of this illegal building. This, among other things, is clearly evident in reports of the Civil Administration Central Supervisory Unit.
  8. The bypass road will have two lanes.  First, there is a lane for vehicles that have come out of the Israeli security envelope and, therefore, there is no concern that they could pose a security risk.  Second, there is a lane for traffic coming out of the Palestinian security envelope, which Israel cannot be certain about from the standpoint of security.  This separation of traffic into two lanes is not based on religious, ethnic, or national distinctions since Palestinian Arab residents of Jerusalem and Israeli Arabs will be expected to use the lanes for Israeli traffic.
  9. Where the traffic from both security systems mixed together on one road, the Palestinian vehicles would have to undergo time-consuming security checks at roadblocks.  The bypass road is thus designed to allow for rapid north-south movement in the West Bank with no interference from Israeli security authorities.
  10. The Palestinian opposition to the bypass road is based on the claim that having only a transportation link between the northern and southern West Bank is unsatisfactory.
    1. This is an unreasonable argument because it ignores the reality that emerged in the wake of the Oslo accords. As part of this reality, the roads in the West Bank became essential arteries for both the Palestinian and Jewish populations, with a dual use: for common transportation, and to create separation and prevent friction between the communities.
    2. The basic concept of a road as something not only intended for transportation purposes but also as a solution to political problems was, in fact, initially accepted by the Palestinian Authority:
      • In the framework of the Oslo accords, representatives of the PA agreed to the creation of the “safe passage” between Gaza and the West Bank. This was to be a wide road serving as a land link from the West Bank to Gaza, and a substitute for territorial continuity.
      • The Palestinians and the Israelis compromised on the “safe passage” issue, each conceding a principle: the Palestinians gave up contiguity between the West Bank and Gaza, while Israel agreed to the creation of a passage with some attributes of foreign land within its own territory.
    3. Despite what the Palestinians claim, the building in E1 that has been approved so far, and has not even begun, does not interrupt any existing Palestinian continuity of construction.
    4. The linking of Jerusalem to Maale Adumim is an overriding Israeli interest for several reasons:
      1. Israel cannot allow Maale Adumim to become like Mount Scopus in the 1948-1967 period, when the mount was an isolated Israeli enclave under UN custody with only a road connecting to it.
      2. Israel cannot allow a situation to emerge of security and urban discontinuity between Jerusalem and Maale Adumim, or the reversion of Jerusalem to a border-town status (as was the case before the Six-Day War) that would preclude the city’s eastward development.
      3. Israel cannot tolerate a threat to the Jerusalem-Jericho road, on which the Palestinian construction is encroaching. This artery is of supreme strategic importance to Israel. In time of war it would enable moving large quantities of troops to the Jordan Valley and northward, as Israel mobilized its forces to contend with a possible “eastern front.”
      4. The area of Maale Adumim, including E1, is part of the strategic depth that Israel requires in the context of defensible borders – again, in the face of an eastern front, and to make it possible to defend its capital, Jerusalem.
      5. The area of settlement around Jerusalem, including Maale Adumim, constitutes part of the metropolitan area of Jerusalem. This area incorporates both settlement and security as two vital, complementary components of the Israeli national interest.
    5. There is an almost complete Israeli consensus on the need to link Maale Adumim to Jerusalem via construction in E1, and on the need to retain this territory under Israeli sovereignty within the country’s permanent borders.
    6. Six prime ministers, from Rabin to Netanyahu, declared publicly that they would build in E1. Yet, except for the construction of the Judea-Samaria District police station, the process has not even begun because of the international community’s opposition.
    7. Time after time, Israeli leaders proclaim their commitment to Maale Adumim and the building of E1. These same leaders, however, show great deference to the position of the United States, which currently seeks to prevent construction in this area. This behavior entails a built-in contradiction: on the one hand, the message is conveyed that Israel will build in E1 because it is so vital to its interests; on the other, through nonpublic diplomatic channels, world leaders receive another message – that meanwhile Israel will bow to the international community’s opposition to this construction. This behavior makes it very difficult for those involved in Israeli public advocacy to address the world’s and the Palestinians’ objections to the E1 plan.

    The E1 Area – between Maale Adumim and Jerusalem

    The E1 Area – between Maale Adumim and Jerusalem


January 27, 2020 | 1 Comment » | 619 views

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1 Comment / 1 Comment

  1. An extremely informative article which proves beyond reasonable doubt that Israel needs to settle E1 with Jews and remove the illegal Arab settlements there. It also documents that Israel has consistently failed to settle any Jews in E1, and has allowed Arabs to settle there. Most of this nonfeasance by the Israeli government has occurred during Bibi Netanyahu’s administration. He has a consistent pattern of saying all the right things about promoting Jewish settlement in Judea-Samaria, while doing all the wrong things. He has frozen settlement activity. even in areas such as E1 that the government has for 25 years or more declared vital to Israel’s security.

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