The grandiose West Bank railway project that defense officials approved this week is tailored for Jewish settlers now and in the future, not the Palestinians of the West Bank. The plan, which pretends to offer a regional railway network, is being pushed by Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz. This is the minister who recently said on the Walla website that “a Palestinian state is unacceptable, mainly because of our right to this land.”
Some NIS 1 million has already been invested in the planning, which envisions 473 kilometers of track and 30 stations on 11 lines, meant to connect the West Bank's cities and regions, and in turn these cities and regions with Jordan and Syria.
The plan is not new. On May 24, 2005, the Defense Ministry's Civil Administration launched a master plan crafted by Israel Railways' infrastructure division. The plan, presented in May 2011, was intended to "create continuity between the railway lines within the Green Line and the lines planned for Judea and Samaria."
In other words, to justify the huge investment, the plan aimed to further strengthen the link between Israeli cities and West Bank settlements, and to encourage more Jews to live in the West Bank. Even if Palestinians use the rail network, its route, like the West Bank's roads, is designed according to the Jewish population's needs. It ignores the fact that the West Bank is part of the Palestinian state recognized by the United Nations.
The planners' invitation to the Palestinian Authority to take part in the planning is deceitful. Several modest and much more urgent infrastructure plans the PA wants to advance have been gathering dust in Civil Administration committees for years or have been rejected. The PA was not invited as the future government of a neighboring state, but rather to portray it as recalcitrant.
The plan may be nowhere near implementation and may never reach that stage, but it will provide plenty of jobs and make the administration's bureaucrats feel they're indispensable. These officials will have to hold countless discussions on all the objections that will be submitted.
With its dwindling budget, the PA will have to recruit more lawyers and planners to file these objections for villages and towns along the proposed route. Israeli human rights groups will probably join the protests or file their own objections, as might certain political parties and a courageous environmental group.
Activists will warn every international company that produces parts for the lines or cars not to cooperate with the occupation. If Europe needed a push to start implementing its directives for noncooperation with the settlements and companies linked to them, it got one Wednesday.
The proposal is to be submitted in a month. Objections have to be filed 60 days later; that is, in three months. There are precedents for filing tens of thousands of objections to master plans such as the Safdie plan for construction west of Jerusalem. A construction plan in Kalansua (in Israel) received 1,700 objections. All objectors were invited to a discussion Thursday.
Even if only 1,000 objections to the railway plan are filed, reading and debating them will take months, if not years. Even if the central planning bureau (all Israelis) approves the plan, the objectors will undoubtedly appeal to the High Court of Justice, which will need time to study the details. It's thus unlikely that tunnels will be excavated in the hills around Hebron, Ramallah and Nablus in the next two or three years.
But since this plan was approved only days after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced the resumption of talks for establishing a Palestinian state, the plan will only raise doubts about Israel’s true intentions. This will happen even among the most optimistic observers – those who tend to believe Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's declarations.