A golden opportunity for Judea and Samaria

By Gershon Hacohen At ISRAEL HAYOM

The public debate over the future of Judea and Samaria and the Jordan Valley has, thus far, mainly focused on considerations of security and demographics. But there is another issue, no less crucial for Israel's future: congested living space and expanding infrastructure. Already today, Israel is among the most congested countries in the world. The "security experts" who support withdrawal and oppose annexation deny and repress this issue.

Israeli cities along the coastal highways that depend on the country's main infrastructure systems weren't planned to accommodate this increasing congestion. Some 60% of the Jewish population in Israel resides between Netanya and Rishon Lezion. Three main highways run along the coast connecting the north and south – namely highways 2, 4, and 6 – and they are jammed throughout most of the day. Highway 6, which was supposed to solve this traffic crisis, is also over-congested.

The only other alternative is located in the open space in the east, based on the Allon Road, running roughly south-north between Highway 1 near Kfar Adumim east of Jerusalem and Highway 90 at Mehola in the central Jordan Valley. This is a vital artery, which needs to be expanded to connect Arad in the south and the Gilboa in the north. In Israel's transportation plans this route is known as Highway 80, which hasn't been paved due to diplomatic circumstances. 

The road, on the level of Highway 6, is necessary for the purpose of diverting heavy north-south traffic from the coastal region. Additionally, such a highway would cater to all residents east of the Samarian hills, Palestinians and Jews alike. Such a project also has the potential to impact future regional transportation from Syria and Jordan to Egypt. This vision is imperative for Israel's existence, which in two decades will approach a population of around 15 million.   

According to the current planning trends, Israelis will continue gravitating toward the country's over-crowded center, along the coast and the greater Tel Aviv area. Looking ahead to 2040, the planning authorities have been instructed to build another 2.6 million apartment units – all of them within the Green Line. The Jerusalem District alone needs to plan for another 300,000 apartments, all within Israel's official borders. Such a directive pushes Jerusalem's expansion westward into the green forest areas of the Judean hills and contradicts the national need to realize the potential of the open space east of Jerusalem, toward Ma'ale Adumim and the Dead Sea. Following the same trend, all the existing construction plans have long since expedited the flow of Israel's population toward Gush Dan.

To create more properly balanced spacing, a new national plan is needed along the following lines:

  1. Establishing Jerusalem as a metropolitan city, by developing perimetric municipal transportation infrastructures from Gush Etzion to the Mishor Adumim industrial zone, Ma'ale Mikhmas, Ofra and Givat Ze'ev.

  2. Utilizing the open corridor from Jerusalem to the Dead Sea for settlement purposes through mass construction of hundreds of thousands of housing units.

  3. Developing an eastern boulevard for the State of Israel from Arad to the Gilboa mountain range in the north, while turning the Jordan Valley from the eastern Samarian hills into a contiguous living space that can absorb 2-3 million Israelis. 

  4. Paving a road akin to Highway 6 along with the steps of the Judean Desert, from Arad to Mishor Adumim, continuing northward to Beit Shean and Afula based on the Allon Road outline.

  5. Developing urban contiguity along Route 5, from Rosh Ha'ayin to Ariel, Tapuah, Migdalim, and Ma'ale Efrayim.

These lines all run through Area C, and will create a sustainable infrastructural framework for the Palestinian entity in the areas they already control.   

A comprehensive plan is needed for western Israel that will balance the necessary space between transportation, water, electricity, housing, sewerage, and protection of green spaces. From this perspective, applying sovereignty obligates the government to formulate a new strategic master plan for the development of Israel's eastern backbone.

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