Palestinian Authority-Israeli “peace talks” might be short-lived following the unveiling on Tuesday of a new Gush Etzion-Dead Sea highway Tuesday that would destroy Palestinian Authority ambitions to include all of the Jordan Valley and the Judean Desert in its planned future state.
While foreign and Israeli media reported that Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas has made it clear there is no room for compromise on PA territorial demands in the area, two Cabinet ministers senior Knesset Member Avigdor Liberman toured the proposed route of the new highway, with work slated to begin in only four months.
News of the new west-east road, which would revolutionize travel and the tourist industry, has barely been reported, but once the Palestinian Authority gets a hold of it, it undoubtedly will demand that there is no sense in talking unless Israel calls off the bulldozers and asphalt trucks.
“Israel will not be present between us and Jordan,” Abbas said in Jericho this week. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has consistently said that Israel will retain a presence in the Jordan Valley as a security measure.
Abbas on Sunday rejected an Israeli military presence, adding that he might consider an international force to back up PA security forces.
The planned $10 million highway makes mincemeat out of Abbas’ grand vision and could set off the fuse that would explode the PA-Israeli discussions that Palestinian Authority negotiators insist are going nowhere.
The route for the new road was unveiled during a tour of the area on Tuesday by Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz, a strong Likud nationalist, Agriculture Minister Yair Shamir of Yisrael Beiteinu , and Liberman, chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Security Committee and leader of the Yisrael Beiteinu faction in the Likud party.
The highway would cut through “Area C,” determined by the Oslo Accords to be under Israeli control, and would carve through some of Israel’s most awesome natural areas.
Planners claimed that the route was approved by environmental experts, but any work that would scar the Judean Desert cliffs, parts of which are virgin area occupied only by wildlife, would meet a storm of protests from environmentalists.
The political story from the Palestinian Authority will be just as fierce, but comments by Israeli officials touring the route Tuesday were full of enthusiasm and praise.
“I have been dreaming of this road for 20 years,” said Motti Dahaman, chairman of the Megillot Regional Council in the Dead Sea area north of Ein Gedi.
“This road is part of a vision or tourism and will connect Gush Etzion to the Dead Sea and Megillot with Jerusalem,” He said. “The highway will make it easier form tourists form Bethlehem to come to the Dead Sea.” The highway if it can bridge the political divide, will cut travel time from Gush Etzion to the Dead Sea to only 27 minutes. Today, the only way to reach the Dead Sea, except by four-wheel vehicles, is via Jerusalem to the north or Arad to the south, with travel time of nearly 90 minutes.
Gush Etzion Regional Council chairman Davidi Perl called the highway an “historic event” and added, “Today there are only two roads to the Dead Sea. The significance of this new highway is that it will bring the center of the country to the Dead Sea and encourage tourism there and in Gush Etzion and the Judean Desert.
The road would include the current Beit Shemesh-Gush Etzion route, which would be widened into a super highway, and it then would carve out a new path, over dirt roads, east of Efrat and then south east, bypassing virtually impassable cliffs.