A massive new road and tunnel program will speed up settlement construction in the West Bank, resulting in what one liberal Israeli activist has called “a de facto annexation on steroids.”

Israelis will be able to reach Jerusalem and Tel Aviv from settlements deep in the West Bank via highways, tunnels and viaducts that cut a wide swath around Palestinian cities.

Human rights groups say the new roads will set the stage for explosive settlement growth, even if Joe Biden’s new US administration convinces Israel somehow to put the brakes on construction. housing. The costly infrastructure projects signal that Israel intends to retain large swathes of the occupied territory in any peace deal and would make the establishment of a viable Palestinian state even more difficult.

“It’s not a hundred more housing units over there or here,” said Yehuda Shaul, an Israeli activist who has spent months researching and mapping the new projects. “It’s a de facto steroid annexation.”

Beginning of the roadworks

Road works extend a road to Israeli settlements inside the West Bank near the city of Bethlehem (Photo: AP Photo / Majdi Mohammed)

Construction is already underway on a huge tunnel that Shaul says will one day allow settlers from Maale Adumim, a sprawling settlement east of Jerusalem, to enter the city and continue to Tel Aviv. without going through a military checkpoint or even hitting a traffic light. .

South of Jerusalem, work is underway to extend the main road leading to the Gush Etzion settlement bloc and settlements further south, with tunnels and viaducts designed to bypass Palestinian villages and refugee camps.

Palestinians will be allowed to drive on most of the new roads, but the infrastructure will be of limited use to them as they need permits to enter Israel or annexed East Jerusalem.

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Israel’s plans to annex parts of the West Bank will cause untold damage

The history of the region

Israel seized the West Bank and East Jerusalem in the 1967 war and has since built a vast network of settlements that are home to nearly 700,000 Jewish settlers. The Palestinians want both territories for their future state and view the settlements as a violation of international law and an obstacle to peace – a position with broad international support.

Supporters of the settlements see the West Bank and Jerusalem as the historical and biblical heart of Israel, seeing the settlements as a way to prevent any partition of the Holy Land.

But most Israelis live and work in major cities. With the exception of an ideological minority, most Israelis would be uncomfortable living deep in the West Bank.

The new roads promise to change all that, turning settlements into affordable suburban communities with safe and easy access to cities and public transportation. Shaul estimates that the new infrastructure could facilitate plans for more than 50,000 settler housing in the West Bank and another 6,000 in East Jerusalem.

Report by Joseph Krauss, in Jerusalem, for AP.

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