In an attempt to ease up traffic at the northern entrance to al-Bireh, an Arab city 9 miles north of Jerusalem, the Palestinian Authority is paving a new access road to al-Bireh and Ramallah, Makor Rishon reported Friday. The new road is funded by the PA, with an Israeli permit, since it passes through Area C (under full Israeli control). The new road follows the outline of an old Israeli road that was blocked to traffic during the second intifada of 2000.
Al-Bireh Mayor Azzam Ismail announced this week that the new road would allow his city’s residents to drive in and out without having to go through the IDF crossing near Bet El. He also said that the project, at NIS 6 million ($1.87 million), “will revive the city of al-Bireh and improve its trade and tourism.”
According to project engineers, the road works should be completed in four months. According to them, there will be a big roundabout at the junction of the new road and Highway 60; to continue to al-Bireh motorists will continue to the left; to the Arab village of Baytin or to Bet El – straight and to the right.
According to Makor Rishon, the new, short road is part of a planned connection of the Jericho area to Jerusalem and Ramallah and will offer to the residents of Bet El who in recent years have suffered traffic jams on the road they share with the people of al-Bireh.
Shai Alon, head of the Bet El local council, told Makor Rishon that “Bet El has been under siege since the Oslo agreements.” According to Alon, in the past “only Palestinians with a VIP permit were allowed to drive to Ramallah on our highway, and today, everybody does. From about 2,000 vehicles a day, we’ve gone up to the crazy reality of tens of thousands of vehicles. The new project was intended to improve the lives of the Palestinians, but I won’t deny that the residents of Bet El could use it, too.”
Still, Alon warned about the security impact of the new road: “The sweeping decision to remove the check posts at the entrance to Palestinian cities could cost human life,” as terrorist squads could use it for a quick getaway to al-Bireh. Alon has been pressuring the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories to pave a second access road to Bet El, whose population of about 6,000 currently has only one such road.
“We’ve raised a few times the need to break through a security road to Bet El. We’re talking about less than one kilometer of road that won’t bother anyone. The former IDF commander and the former COGAT chief Ghassan Alian already signed on a permit for this road, and the current head of COGAT is saying it’s going to happen, but so far nothing has happened.”
COGAT responded: “Following staff work over the past few years, recent works have begun to build a roundabout and new traffic lanes near the settlement of Bet El in Binyamin regional council. This is in response to the rising need because of heavy traffic loads in the area in recent years. We stress that the new plan was intended to ease traffic loads in the area and will serve the entire local population.”