|The section of the highway, which runs through the West Bank, linking Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, was closed in 2002 to Palestinians. (Associated Press/ File 2008)|
Israeli court rules on highway
Palestinians can use roadway for West Bank travel
JERUSALEM - Israel’s Supreme Court ordered the military yesterday to allow Palestinians to travel on the part of a major highway that runs through the West Bank, handing Palestinians their biggest victory yet against Israel’s practice of reserving some roads for Jews.
The West Bank section of a road linking Jerusalem and Tel Aviv was closed in 2002 to the Palestinians, after militants shot at Israeli vehicles on the highway and killed several motorists.
About half of the 20-mile highway runs through the West Bank. Palestinians living in villages along the route petitioned to reopen it in 2007, as the Palestinian uprising against Israel wound down.
The court said in a summary of its ruling that the military does not have the authority to impose a permanent and sweeping limitation on Palestinian travel along the West Bank section of the road because that “in effect transforms the road into a route designed for ‘internal’ Israeli traffic alone.’’
It also said the closure of the road “does not benefit the local population, from whom lands were appropriated to build it.’’ The judges ruled that security considerations cannot take precedence.
“It’s a huge victory,’’ said Melanie Takefman, spokeswoman for the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, which represented the Palestinians in their petition before the court.
The restrictions caused hardships for tens of thousands of Palestinians, who were forced to travel on dirt roads to other areas of the West Bank. That problem was eased last year with the opening of alternative paved routes for Palestinians.
Palestinian Hassan Mafarjeh, the mayor of Beit Liqya village near the highway, said the alternate road was not a solution. “We reject the principle that our land is expropriated to build more roads,’’ he said.
He said the trip to the main city in the area, Ramallah, took an hour on the dirt roads and 30 minutes on the alternate road. Using the highway would cut that to just 15 minutes, he said.
The court gave the military five months to implement the ruling. Under existing regulations, sections of the road that lie in Israeli territory will remain closed to Palestinian vehicles, as are all Israeli roads.
It was the second time in months that the Supreme Court has ordered the military to open a West Bank road declared off-limits to Palestinians.
In Cairo yesterday, Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, presented Egyptian officials with ideas for restarting Mideast peace talks, impressing his hosts with proposals that go further than past Israeli positions, Egypt’s top diplomat said.
The meeting took place as a Hamas official said his group had rejected Israel’s latest proposal for a prisoner swap with the Islamic militants. A top Hamas official in Syria said the deal is on hold because Israel was refusing to release key prisoners and insisting on mass deportations of freed militants.
The peace process and prisoner swaps were high on Netanyahu’s agenda yesterday. Egypt, the first Arab country to make peace with Israel, has been a key mediator on both fronts. Germany, at Hamas’ behest, is also involved in the mediation.
Israeli-Palestinian talks broke off a year ago, and the two sides are odds on how to restart negotiations. The issue of Israeli settlements in areas claimed by the Palestinians has been a major sticking point, and Israel’s offer of a partial settlement freeze has failed to break the deadlock.
Correction: An Associated Press story on Dec. 30 incorrectly stated Israeli restrictions on road travel. Israel reserves some roads for the use of Israeli citizens.