Israelis' preoccupation with security is focusing on Route 443.
It is one of two four lane, high speed, divided highways that link Jerusalem with the Tel Aviv metropolitan area. It is the favored route for the northern neighborhoods of Jerusalem, and the best way to travel to the expanding complex of Modiin-Reut-Maccabeen-Modiin Ilit, an expanding group of residential towns between the two cities. A lengthy article in the Jerusalem Post reports the history of the road, and views of people who use it. http://www.jpost.com/LocalIsrael/InJerusalem/Article.aspx?id=175962
The road was planned in optimistic times before the first intifada, when Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza could travel and work in Israel. The road was justified as improving the lives of Palestinians and Israelis. About 10 kilometers of its middle section is within the Palestinian area of the West Bank.
During the second intifada beginning in 2000, there was sniping, fire bombs, and other acts of violence directed at vehicles. In response, Israel blocked entrances from Arab villages, and begin the construction of high concrete barriers along part of the road. For much of the first kilometers of travel from Jerusalem, one drives between walls that block the view of the countryside. Until a decision in late December 2009, the Supreme Court accepted the government's concerns for security as justification for denying the use of the road to Palestinian vehicles.
Then the Court accepted an appeal from Palestinian and civil rights groups, ordered the government to open the road to Palestinian use within five months, but allowed discretion to deal with legitimate concerns for security.
The road is scheduled to open shortly, with the completion of new construction meant to assure its safety. Palestinians will be allowed limited use of the road after what the IDF says will be stringent inspections, and for travel between villages along that section over the 1967 border. Palestinians will not be allowed on that part of the road that provides entry to Israel in the east near Jerusalem, or in the west near the Modiin complex.
The arrangement is providing concern both to Israelis who want to make a more serious gesture to Palestinians, and to those who fear for their safety. One concern is that many travelers will avoid Route 443, and overload to the point of clogging the other major highway, Route 1. That road connects Jerusalem and Tel Aviv along a path that itself is not completely within pre-1967 borders.
Even during the years when it was closed to Palestinians and heavily patrolled by the IDF and police, Route 443 was not entirely safe from attacks with stones, fire bombs, and gun shots. It was heavily traveled during weekday daylight hours, but widely avoided at night.
Travelers interviewed by journalists expect incidents once the road is opened, but differ on whether they are willing to risk the danger in exchange for convenience. Residents of the small Jewish town of Beit Horon have no options. They cannot get anywhere without traveling on Route 443.
Israel's withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 did not produce any gesture of accommodation from Palestinians. Rocket firings continued against settlements entirely within Israel. Eventually they produced the invasion of 2008-09 that persists in the shape of a severe blockade.
In the days to come we can expect appeals to the Supreme Court that emphasize the lack of assured security and demand a renewed closure to Palestinian vehicles, as well as appeals that demand a more complete opening of the road. Sooner or later there will be violence, if only from Palestinian individuals or small gangs seeking revenge from some act in the past, or opposed to any let up in their struggle.
Route 443 ought to concern the Obama White House. The future of the road depends on Israeli and Palestinian security personnel, as well as good luck that no determined individuals succeed in anything spectacular enough to produces a massive Israeli response. If things go better than they might, the President can claim it as a benefit of engagement. On the other hand, it might bring about a bloody end to his aspirations for peace in this little place.
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem