INDEPENDENT NEWS

Cablegate: Idf Opens Key West Bank Road to Palestinians

Published: Thu 21 Jan 2010 04:36 PM
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SUBJECT: IDF OPENS KEY WEST BANK ROAD TO PALESTINIANS
1. (SBU) Summary: The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) opened an
important West Bank road southwest of Hebron to Palestinian
vehicle traffic on January 15, in compliance with an October
2009 Israeli Supreme Court ruling. The IDF's response to the
ruling could have implications for the easing of other
Israeli restrictions in the West Bank where the number of
affected Palestinians arguably outweighs the justification
for restricting movement and access. End Summary.
Closure Affected Thousands of Palestinians
------------------------------------------
2. (SBU) The IDF on January 15 reopened to Palestinian
traffic 4.5 kilometers of Route 354 in southwest Hebron
between Negohot settlement (population 180) and the illegal
outpost of Mitzpe Lachish (population four families) that had
been in place since 2001. The closure affected 22
Palestinian villages (about 25,000-30,000 people) that used
the route as the main access road to and from Hebron, their
socio-economic hub. As a result of the closure, residents
were forced to use alternative dirt roads that extended
travel time by over an hour and were often impassable during
the winter rainy season.
Ruling Based on Proportionality
-------------------------------
3. (SBU) The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI)
first submitted a petition to the Israeli Supreme Court in
2006 to open Route 354. After a two-year legal battle, the
Supreme Court ruled in favor of ACRI in October 2009, calling
on the IDF to find alternative means of security for the
Israeli settlers and to open the road within three months.
According to ACRI, this was the first Supreme Court decision
to open a segregated Palestinian road, effectively overriding
an Israeli military order to keep the route closed for
security reasons.
4. (SBU) In its October 2009 ruling, the Israeli Supreme
Court did not support ACRI's position that a segregated road
system is "discriminatory" and therefore illegal, but rather
adopted the argument of proportionality. Supreme Court
President Dorti Beinish stated, "closure of the road was
disproportionate, given (that it was) meant to protect 150
(sic) Jews who reside in the area, but affects thousands of
Palestinians." An ACRI contact said that while the ruling
"improves the lives of tens of thousands of local
Palestinians, it is problematic because of what it did not
address: the lack of a categorical interdiction on the system
of segregation and discrimination that is becoming more
entrenched in the West Bank."
All Eyes on 443
---------------
5. (SBU) Similarly, the Israeli Supreme Court on December 30
ruled in favor of allowing Palestinians to use Route 443, an
Israeli-only, four-lane highway between Jerusalem and Tel
Aviv that is used by an estimated 40,000 cars daily. The
road, currently closed to Palestinian vehicles, runs through
the West Bank, from which it cuts off six major Palestinian
villages (about 130,000 people). The Court decided that
while the IDF should take necessary security measures to
protect Israeli citizens traveling on Route 443, the military
should not prevent Palestinians from using the road. The
Court has notified IDF Central Command that it has five
months (until late May 2010) to implement the court's order.
According to the press, the IDF Spokesperson responded that
the Central Command has "begun examining the repercussions in
order to implement the ruling."
6. (SBU) Following the Court's decision to open Route 443,
press reported that Israeli activists now have petitioned the
IDF to open West Bank roads restricted from use by Israeli
vehicles (specifically routes connecting settlements around
Nablus and Hebron), and threatened to go to the Supreme Court
if the request was not granted.
Comment
-------
7. (SBU) Israeli NGOs and Palestinian contacts note that the
Israeli justice system has not ruled against the concept of
segregated roads. However, the rulings on Routes 354 and 443
could set a precedent where current movement restrictions on
Palestinians potentially outweigh the justification for
closures )- such as a section of road near Jerusalem that
affects more than a million Palestinians, on behalf of 5
Jewish families, as well as Routes 466 (in Ramallah) and 90
(in the Jordan Valley). The IDF's decision in late September
to open Route 585 between Jenin and Tulkarem (without a court
ruling) was likely carried out at least in part due to
arguments that the 400,000 Palestinians affected by the
closure overrode the security concerns of 500 settlers.
RUBINSTEIN
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