Transport Minister: Let’s Revive the ‘Hejaz Railway’

YERUSHALAYIM -
An Israel Railways train seen in the northern Hefer Valley. (Moshe Shai/Flash90/FILE)

Sooner or later, Transport Minister Yisrael Katz believes, the Palestinian Authority and other Arab countries will come around to seeing things from Israel’s point of view, and implement full relations with it – and Katz is all ready with plans for direct transportation between Israel and Arab countries, both on the roads and on the rails.

The recent opening of the Valley Railway, running from Beit She’an to Haifa, provides an opening for such a rail line. The Haifa railway line once connected to another line in Beit She’an that traversed Jordan and went on to Saudi Arabia, and Katz believes that line can and will be restored.

Speaking at a conference on transportation in Tel Aviv, Katz said that “the line would follow the historic route of the Hejaz line. We have met with American government officials several times on this project. There is a train line from Riyadh to Jordan, and there is a train line from Haifa to very near the Jordanian border. All that is missing is a 200-kilometer connection between the two, and then we will have access to the potential of the Saudi economy. If just 25 percent of Saudi-bound merchandise passes through Haifa, that would be an annual business opportunity of $250 billion.”

According to Katz, the intransigence of the Palestinian Authority will not stand in the way of such a project. “The first ones to except themselves from the behavior of the PA were the leaders of the Arab countries. They see the United States as an ally,” unlike the PA, which said last in the wake of the U.S. recognition of Yerushalayim as Israel’s capital that it would automatically reject any American peace initiatives.

“They [the Arab countries] are interested in regional economic and security cooperation, including fighting the terror of Islamic State. Israel does not have to wait for the PA to come around, instead we should be proposing ideas that will benefit all residents of the region, with cooperative economic projects with the Gulf states, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.”

Among those projects Katz has proposed, he said, is an artificial island off the coast of Gaza. The island would be located five kilometers out to sea, and would include a port and cargo terminal, where cargo could be inspected for security purposes before being trucked across a bridge to Gaza. “An artificial island will provide Gaza residents with access to the world, and it could include facilities for power generation or water desalination. We could even consider an airport in the future. We have an interest in helping Gaza develop, but we know who Hamas is, and thus we must remain in charge of security,” Katz added.