Aug. 25, 2005 – According to a decision by Israelâ€™s attorney general, the long-awaited move to effectively annex the largest Jewish settlement in the West Bank by wrapping it in Israelâ€™s controversial "separation barrier" will have an effect even more severe than anticipated by Palestinians.
The barrier, which cuts deep into Palestinian territory at numerous points, is now planned to effectively bifurcate the West Bank into two segments â€“ north and south of Jerusalem â€“ in order to incorporate Maâ€™aleh Adumim and the 3,600 new Jewish-only housing units planned on Palestinian land between the settlement and Jerusalem.
Accusations abounded Wednesday that the barrier expansion announcement proves Palestiniansâ€™ predictions that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharonâ€™s much-lauded Gaza disengagement plan was actually the first phase of an agenda to annex large parts of the West Bank.
Palestinians, who long expected such an announcement but hoped some Palestinian land in the area would be spared, reacted with outrage. Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat called it "a disastrous decision," the LA Times reports, and he told the New York Times the orders are "a signal that Israel intends to pre-empt and pre-judge issues that are supposed to be negotiated."
The Israeli military commander in the West Bank sent letters to the mayors and land owners in the Palestinian villages through which the barrier will cut, according to numerous reports, notifying them of impending land confiscations where the wall will be erected and offering them the opportunity to apply for what the letter reportedly called "compensation."
The new orders will reportedly place the massive wall around some 67 square kilometers inside the West Bank, which is about 30 kilometers from east to west at that point. In the process, the wall will trap nearly 400 acres of Palestinian farmland, olive groves and hundreds of wells and reservoirs on the "Israeli side" of the barrier, in addition to undeveloped desert lands, according to a Palestinian National Authority representative who spoke to Israelâ€™s Haâ€™aretz daily.
The settlement of Maâ€™aleh Adumim is home to nearly 30,000 settlers, according to the Israeli government. It is illegal under international law.
Palestinian negotiator Michael Tarazi told the London Times: "The wall is designed to maximise the amount of undeveloped Palestinian land that Israel intends to confiscate. We are talking about a carving away of Jerusalem, which is our economic, spiritual and healthcare hub."
The barrier is planned to stretch about 670 kilometers in total length, nearly the entirety of it squarely inside territory already recognized as Palestinian land under international law. Israel insists the barrier â€“ which is a mix of high security fences, trenches, sniper towers and 8-meter-high walls where construction has been completed â€“ is necessary to protect its citizens from terrorist attacks. But critics of the barrier say its positioning is meant to change the internationally-recognized border between the state of Israel and a future Palestinian state. The barrier has received condemnation from the international community, including the UNâ€™s World Court.