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US aid for Palestinian roads facilitates hateful Israeli system of separate roadways

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Great piece of investigative reporting by Nadia Hijab and Jesse Rosenfeld in the Nation showing that many new Palestinian roads in the West Bank paid for by our government (U.S. that is) and other international donors are only serving Israeli settlement expansion by consolidating an Israeli plan for separate roadways. Emphasis mine:

As public works minister, Mohammad Shtayyeh defended the PA’s road rehabilitation and construction: "All these efforts have improved Palestinian infrastructure and fit into the plans of the government," he said. But, he added, "this work needs a political frame to end the occupation." (Shtayyeh has since resigned his post.) As for USAID, it insists that the PA is responsible for project selection, while its role is limited to economic and technical assessment and funding.

But research by the Applied Research Institute of Jerusalem (ARIJ), the respected Palestinian natural resources institute, reveals some damning facts: 32 percent of the PA roads funded and implemented by USAID neatly fall into a proposal the Israeli Civil Administration (aka the military occupation authority) presented to donors in 2004. Israel wanted donors to fund some 500 kilometers of alternative roads to serve the Palestinians it was blocking from the main road network (see animated slide here). The donors rejected the proposal at that time, but it now turns out that PA-USAID efforts have effectively implemented 22 percent of Israel’s plan.

When it is pointed out that many of the alternative roads could facilitate settlement expansion, apartheid-style segregation and annexation by taking Palestinians off the main grid–thus working against a Palestinian state–Shtayyeh said, "We don’t look at it this way. The Israelis are stopping people from using these roads, and our job is to find ways for people to survive. This doesn’t mean these roads are permanent structures."

The Palestine Liberation Organization’s Negotiation Support Unit carefully studied the perils of developing infrastructure under occupation after the International Court of Justice in 2004 reaffirmed the illegality of Israel’s wall in the occupied West Bank. The NSU prepared a manual with guidance on how to build without becoming complicit in Israeli colonization. Asked whether the PA was aware of the role these roads would play in settler annexation, an NSU staffer, speaking anonymously as he was not authorized to speak to the media, told The Nation, "We have presented our position paper to the prime minister’s office and Mohammad Shtayyeh, and they are well aware of the issue."

…After donors rejected its 2004 proposal for the alternative road network, Israel began building the roads anyway, later terming them "fabric of life" roads. "Apart from being racist, these roads are wasteful," said Sarit Michaeli, spokesperson for B’Tselem, the Israeli human rights organization. "The fabric-of-life roads are meant to solve a problem that in most cases was illegally imposed by Israel."

In mid-2009 the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimated that Israeli authorities had paved about forty-nine kilometers of alternative roads, including forty-three tunnels and underpasses, raising not just political but also environmental concerns about the impact of an additional road network on a small area like the West Bank. OCHA describes the fabric-of-life roads as one of the mechanisms to control Palestinian movement and facilitate that of Israeli settlers. B’Tselem estimates that Israel has spent some $44.5 million on the fabric-of-life road system–a small price to pay to seize vast tracts of land.

Nidal Hatim, a local playwright, online columnist and activist with the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement (BDS), cannot take the main road from Bethlehem to his home village of Battir, just outside the city. Route 60 is the main highway running north-south through the center of the West Bank. "To go on the highway, we have to go through the checkpoint and turn around," he said. "I have a West Bank Palestinian ID, so I can’t go through the checkpoint." Instead, he takes a bumpy side road that is currently being built by the PA with USAID support. The road turns from choppy cement to residential street to dirt and gravel path, weaving around and under the four-lane Route 60, which is now used mostly by Israeli settlers. Passing through a partly completed tunnel, the car stalls for a second on a steep unpaved incline on the edge of an olive grove.

Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is Founder and Co-Editor of

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