Thursday, February 01, 2007

PM approves eastward move of section of separation barrier

By Meron Rapoport

31 January 2007

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has approved the moving of the
separation barrier at least five kilometers eastward from
the Green Line in the area of Modi'in Ilit, in order to
take in the settlements of Nili and Na'aleh, according to
security sources and a brief submitted by the state to the
High Court of Justice.

The new route will create two Palestinian enclaves
containing about 20,000 people. Nili and Na'aleh together
have some 1,500 residents.

Olmert approved the change in response to pressure from
residents of the two settlements, both of which would have
been left outside the barrier, according to the route
approved by the cabinet last April. The new route will
lengthen the fence by about 12 kilometers, which will cost
an estimated NIS 120 million.

If the cabinet approves Olmert's decision, it will be the
first time part of the fence has been moved eastward after
receiving cabinet approval. Hitherto, all such changes
have moved the fence westward, toward the Green Line, the
pre-1967 border that separates Israel and the West Bank.

Nili and Na'aleh, both secular settlements, are located
some five kilometers from the Green Line. Originally, they
were supposed to be surrounded by a "double fence" ¬ one
along the Green Line and one to their east ¬ that would
have trapped five Palestinian villages, with some 17,000
residents between them. In June 2004, however, the High
Court ordered a section of the fence near Jerusalem
dismantled on the grounds that it caused disproportionate
harm to local Palestinians, and the defense establishment
feared that the court would do the same to the
Nili-Na'aleh section. It therefore proposed a new route
that eliminated the eastern fence and left Nili and
Na'aleh outside the western fence, and in April 2006, the
cabinet approved this route.

Rani Hernik, chairman of the Na'aleh local council, said
that leaders of both settlements then began intensive
lobbying in an effort to get the route changed again.
Their main argument, he said, was that both settlements
are on state land and would thus not interfere with the
Palestinians' "fabric of life," and therefore, the court
would be likely to approve a route that included them.

Colonel Danny Tirza, then the official in charge of
planning the fence's route, was the main person pushing to
include Nili and Na'aleh, Hernik said. (The Defense
Ministry subsequently removed Tirza from his position,
because of an inaccurate affidavit he submitted to the
High Court.)

Hernik said that the proposal to include the two
settlements within the fence ended up on Olmert's desk,
"and as far as I know, received his authorization."
Security sources confirmed that Olmert approved the change
in principle last November and asked the defense
establishment to prepare a formal proposal for the

And in response to a petition against the route approved
by the cabinet last April, the Justice Ministry recently
told the High Court that "a proposal to change the route
of the security fence to include the Israeli settlements
of Nili and Na'aleh and part of the road connecting the
Nili-Na'aleh Junction to Kiryat Sefer (Modi'in Ilit) is
due to be presented to the Israeli government."

Hernik said that a new road is also due to be paved, which
will connect Modi'in Ilit, Nili and Na'aleh with the
settlement of Ofarim. Palestinians will not be permitted
access to this road, but two tunnels will be built under
it to allow Palestinian traffic to transverse it.

The result is that some 17,000 Palestinians will be stuck
in an enclave bounded by the fence along the Green Line to
the west, and the road and the Nili-Na'aleh fence to the
east. Another village, with some 2,000 residents, will be
enclosed by the new fence route on three sides.

Olmert's office said in response that he has received a
proposal to connect the defenses around Nili and Na'aleh
to the barrier and is currently studying it. When he
finishes, he will bring it to the cabinet for discussion.

The Defense Ministry and the Israel Defense Forces said
that the defense establishment "is currently engaged in
staff work to examine the various alternatives," including
proposals to encompass the two settlements with a security
fence and to protect the access road connecting them with
Kiryat Sefer.

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