MASRI: Apartheid Train-Israel‘s multi-billion dollar railroad plan in the West Bank 12Aug13 August 12, 2013


by Fatima Masri    -   Palestine Monitor    -    9 August 2013

The Israeli Civil Administration is promoting a plan for the construction of a grandiose railway system in the occupied Palestinian territories.  The proposed plan, expected to be completed in 2035, will include the construction of 473 kilometres of rail, 30 stations and 11 separate railway lines.

The Palestinian Authority refuses to take part in the plan, which includes construction of the railway in areas A and B, under the PA’s jurisdiction.

In normal circumstances, an improvement in the transportation system would arouse public consent. Yet in Palestine, an Israeli railway running through land defined by international law as temporarily occupied reaffirms the Israeli objective of permanent dominion.

Serving settlers’ needs

The map proposed for the rail network clearly reflects the settler population’s needs. The central line will link Palestinian cities with the highest settlement presence – Jenin, Nablus, and Hebron – to the outskirts of Jerusalem and to the Israeli city of Be’er Sheva in the Negev desert. A latitudinal line will run through Hebron, Jericho and Tulkarem, connecting the illegal West Bank settlements of Ariel, Kiryat Arba and Ma’ale Adumim to Israel.

If completed, the ease of access between Israel and the West Bank will encourage more Israelis to live in the occupied territories as well as facilitate movement of Israeli troops within Palestinian land.

The huge investment entailed in the plan – estimated in 27.8 billion dollars – reaffirms Israel’s intention to secure its control on the disputed land of occupied Palestinian territories. 

Mustafa Barghouthi, Secretary General of the Palestinian National Initiative (PNI), defined the Israeli railway plan as the “ultimate attempt to annex the West Bank”. 

Apartheid railway?

Israeli media stresses the benefits for commuting Palestinians, who are not formally restrained from accessing the trains. However, it is not clear how the current extensive system of checkpoints and travel restrictions imposed on the Palestinian population will be applied without compromising the whole purpose of a fast track.

If no ethnic separation is enforced, settlers – who live in inaccessible enclaves and are authorized to carry weapons – and Palestinians would find themselves sitting side by side in train cars. From 2004 to 2011, episodes of violence committed by settlers increased 315%.  According to the United Nation’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), over 90% of monitored complaints regarding settler violence have been closed without indictment.

Even if Palestinians are not legally prevented from accessing the trains, travelling in conditions that do not grant Palestinian security might lead to the voluntary exclusion of the local population.

Economic and environmental cost of the plan

Some 1 million Israeli shekels (NIS) have already been invested in the planning process. This large investment is in stark contrast to the absence of financial aid to Area C of the Palestinian territories, which are under Israeli full civil and security control.  As an occupying power, the Fourth Geneva Convention legally requires Israel to fulfil the local population’s basic needs. Despite this, the Israeli Civil Administration has rejected several urgent infrastructure plans proposed by the Palestinian Authority.

The lack of funds will likely postpone the start of construction for several years.  However the mere existence of the plan virtually occupies the lands on which it is supposed to develop, as building along the future railway track is prohibited.   

The plan entails a permanent alteration of the landscape, something that is explicitly prohibited by the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Furthermore, Israeli planners have arbitrarily decided the railway path without the consultation of Palestinian officials. Even though the plan will be open to objections in the coming weeks, hiring lawyers and planners to ensure the maximum safeguard of Palestinian land will be detrimental to the Palestinian Authority’s diminishing budget.

Implications on the peace talks

The plan was approved only days before U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s most recent attempt to resume the peace talks, raising doubts on Israel’s true intentions.

Additional distrust is due to the recent statement made by Israeli Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz in which the MK member said:  “a Palestinian state is unacceptable, mainly because of our right to this land.”  This is troubling considering Katz is one of the main supporters of the Railway plan.

The new railway system seeks to further integrate Palestinian geography and economy into Israel, dashing the already feeble hopes for a two-state solution

The new railway system seeks to further integrate Palestinian geography and economy into Israel, dashing the already feeble hopes for a two-state solution. In her article for Haaretz, Rachel Neeman suggests that the plan might encourage the realisation of a bi-national state. 

However, Palestinian reactions suggest a different ending to the peace talks. Secretary General of PNI Mustafa Barghouthi views the approval of the railway plan as a new attempt to foil Palestinian demands and further implement an Apartheid regime in Palestine.

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