Report: New Roads Pave Way for Major Population Growth in Yehuda and Shomron

YERUSHALAYIM (AP) -
Roadworks expanding a road to Israeli communities in Yehuda and Shomron, near the city of Beit Lechem. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)

In the coming years, Israelis will be able to commute into Yerushalayim and Tel Aviv from communities deep inside Yehuda and Shomron via highways, tunnels and overpasses that cut a wide berth around Palestinian towns.

Rights groups say the new roads will set the stage for explosive Israeli population growth, even if the incoming U.S. administration somehow convinces Israel to curb housing construction. The costly infrastructure projects signal that Israel intends to keep large swaths of the region in any peace deal.

Construction already is underway on a huge tunnel that Shaul says will one day allow residents from Maale Adumim, a city just east of Yerushalayim, to drive into the city and onward to Tel Aviv without passing through a military checkpoint or even hitting a traffic light.

South of Yerushalayim, work is underway to expand the main highway leading to the Gush Etzion bloc and towns farther south, with tunnels and overpasses designed to bypass Palestinian villages and refugee camps.

Palestinians will be allowed to drive on many of the new roads, but the infrastructure will be of limited use to them because they need permits to enter Israel or east Yerushalayim.

The new roads promise to alleviate the hazards of driving by Palestinian areas where rock-throwing and terrorist gunfire are always a threat. The current construction would change all that, transforming Israeli towns into affordable suburban communities with safe, easy access to cities and public transportation.

Yehuda Shaul, an Israeli left-wing activist who has spent months researching and mapping out the new projects, estimates the new infrastructure could facilitate plans for more than 50,000 housing units in Yehuda and Shomron and another 6,000 in east Yerushalayim.

“People don’t bring roads, roads bring people,” he said.

His findings are based on minutes from several meetings held in recent years by parliamentary subcommittees charged with improving infrastructure. He also cites a strategic plan presented by Transportation Minister Miri Regev (Likud), to a group of mayors last month.

In a statement after the meeting, Regev called it “an exciting day for the settlements and for the state of Israel, which builds and is building in all areas of the homeland.” She said it provided a “holistic vision” for “a future development plan for the region.”

The ministry did not respond to requests for comment.

Oded Revivi, the mayor of Efrat, who attended the meeting, said the draft plan was “very thorough,” and that the ministry was open to suggestions, “taking into account the needs of both populations, both the Jews and the Arabs.”

He said U.S. President Donald Trump’s Mideast plan, which would allow Israel to annex about a third of Yehuda and Shomron, including all the Jewish areas, had proven that they are not an obstacle to peace. That plan was immediately rejected by the Palestinians and is likely to be scrapped by President-elect Joe Biden, who opposes annexation.