BERLIN (JTA) — A German railway firm has stopped advising Israel on a rapid rail project that includes nearly four miles that would run under the West Bank.
DB International dropped out of the project last winter over human rights concerns, after being advised by a top German official.
Peter Ramsauer, Germany’s Minister of Transport, Building and Urban Affairs, spoke with DB International executives earlier this year, according to correspondence from Ramsauer and the ministry’s state secretary, Enak Ferlemann, a member of the Christian Democratic Union party.
The DBI move was brought to light when Ferlemann’s letter was posted recently on several pro-Palestinian and human rights blogs.
The rail line, at a cost of about $1.7 billion, is expected to cut travel time between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv to about 28 minutes from a trip that now takes up to an hour and a half. According to estimates, the project will be completed by 2017. Most of the section in the West Bank would be underground, according to the German news magazine der Spiegel.
Critics say this section would violate international law by infringing on Palestinian territory.
The March letter from Ferlemann to Left Party legislator Inge Hoger confirmed that Ramsauer had discussed the matter with German railway executives this winter.
In fact, Ramsauer had written to Deutsche Bahn executives in February, saying that “in principle I support an increased cooperation with Israel in the realm of railways… [but] In recent weeks Palestinian Foreign Affairs Minister [Riyad Al-] Malki, members of the German Parliament and media have criticized a project in which DB
International is acting as advisor to Israel’s state-run Israel Railway…"
"I want to advise you," Ramsauer wrote, "that this Israeli railway project which runs through occupied territory is problematic from a foreign policy standpoint and is potentially against international law.”
In the letter, which was obtained by JTA, Ramsauer said he had spoken with DB International chief Niko Warbanoff, and was sure that a “solution acceptable to all sides” would be found.
Ferlemann, updating the situation, wrote Hoger that DB International, after meetings in Germany’s embassy in Tel Aviv, had announced in writing that "they would no longer be involved in this politically sensitive project."
Peter Grasse, an assistant to Hoger on Middle East Affairs, told JTA that the response was "a positive signal" suggesting that the German government takes human rights in the Palestinian territories seriously.
Hoger took part in the ill-fated Mavi Marmara flotilla that entered Israeli waters off Gaza last year. Grasse said Hoger had no current plans to join further flotillas.