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Ma’aleh Adumim residents back expansion

Palestinian laborers work on new houses in the West Bank´s largest Jewish settlement, Ma´aleh Adumim, near Jerusalem on March 28. (Brian Hendler)

Palestinian laborers work on new houses in the West Bank´s largest Jewish settlement, Ma´aleh Adumim, near Jerusalem on March 28. (Brian Hendler)

MA’ALEH ADUMIM, West Bank, April 5 (JTA) — Neatly planted flower beds and rows of palm trees line the entrance to Ma’aleh Adumim, the West Bank settlement of 40,000 people that Israel hopes to link physically with Jerusalem. To help make sure that happens, the Israeli government plans to line the area between Ma’aleh Adumim and Jerusalem, known to planners as E-1, not just with pretty landscaping but with new buildings as well. The decade-old plan for expanding Ma’aleh Adumim includes the building of 3,500 new apartments and a commercial and industrial area. The expansion would help cement the physical connection between the capital and Ma’aleh Adumim, a place that sees itself more as a Jerusalem suburb than as a West Bank settlement. To those who live in Ma’aleh Adumim, the largest Israeli settlement and one that Israelis across the political spectrum agree must be included in Israel’s final borders, there is no question that the government’s plan is the right one. The U.S. government’s sharp criticism of the Israeli plan to build here — a move critics say would block the territorial contiguity of a future Palestinian state and pre-empt negotiations on the shape of future borders — elicits only shrugs from Ma’aleh Adumim residents. “I’m not political; I’m here for the quality of life. I have a house with a garden here,” said Shachar Yonayov, 37, a father of three who owns a private ambulance company. “I too want for there to be peace, but it’s better for Ma’aleh Adumim to be part of Jerusalem.” Like Yonayov, most Ma’aleh Adumim residents have come to this community of green parks and spacious apartments for economic reasons: A five-room apartment here costs roughly the same as a three-room apartment in Jerusalem. The buildings, with their stone facades and red-tiled roofs, line freshly paved streets, and there is little traffic. The schools are good and so is the air, residents say. From the settlement’s beginnings in 1982, with a few small buildings on a windswept corner of desert land, a sprawling suburb has emerged. No one expects that Ma’aleh Adumim ever will be evacuated. When President Bush told Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon last year that the United States would accept the inclusion into Israel of some major West Bank Jewish settlement blocs, it was understood to mean that Ma’aleh Adumim, just seven miles from Jerusalem, would one day be part of Israel proper. But critics of the Israeli plan say the controversy is not over the future of Ma’aleh Adumim itself but over what will happen to the area between it and Jerusalem. They say the future of that territory must be decided only during negotiations with the Palestinians. “An addition, or even the planning of new housing in sensitive areas without taking into account the needs of the other side, is not wise,” the Ha’aretz newspaper wrote in an editorial. “A demonstration of some sensitivity toward the Palestinians at this fragile state of the relationship is far more important than adding any new territories.” However, as former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak recently noted, Palestinian building along the hillsides leading from Jerusalem to Ma’aleh Adumim will decide the issue soon if Israel doesn’t begin building fast. Israel Kimche, a senior researcher at the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies, a think tank on Jerusalem issues, says he doesn’t buy the claim that expanding Ma’aleh Adumim will sunder the northern and southern parts of the West Bank. “The main connection could be a major arterial road. I don’t see” the building “as a problem,” Kimche said. Shopping in Ma’aleh Adumim’s large mall with his wife and two young sons, Shmuelik Cohen said the government’s plan to build along the corridor to Jerusalem will help protect the entire area. “We need to do this in order to secure” Ma’aleh Adumim, he said, claiming that large settlement areas, such as Ma’aleh Adumim, do more to help Israel’s security than smaller ones scattered across the West Bank. Cohen also suggested that in the future, Palestinians could be given some Israeli land to compensate for the settlement blocs Israel continues to control. Trying on a new shade of lipstick at a cosmetics shop, Yehudit, 65, a retired government worker, said Israel should ignore criticism and build in Ma’aleh Adumim. She did not care for U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s recent comments to the Los Angeles Times that the Ma’aleh Adumim expansion was “at odds with American policy” and could hurt peace efforts. “It does not matter that the Americans are against it. The government should be doing this,” said Yehudit, who moved to the city 20 years ago and remembers when there were gravel roads and little infrastructure, and sometimes she’d have to wait for hours for buses to Jerusalem. “We cannot think twice. We have to build.” Shlomi Ben Hamo, 34, moved to Ma’aleh Adumim from Jerusalem as a child. He said he also approves of the new plan but doesn’t know how to offset the impact it will have on the Palestinians. “It’s a serious problem we have here,” he said. “I have no answer for it.”

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