West Bank city set to be annexation test case

Palestinian labourers working at a construction site in the West Bank settlement of Ma'ale Adumim last month. Many Palestinians fear that any annexation of Ma'ale Adumim by Israel will mark the beginning of more such moves in the West Bank, and the e
Palestinian labourers working at a construction site in the West Bank settlement of Ma'ale Adumim last month. Many Palestinians fear that any annexation of Ma'ale Adumim by Israel will mark the beginning of more such moves in the West Bank, and the end of the two-state dream.PHOTO: NYTIMES

MA'ALE ADUMIM (West Bank) • The city of Ma'ale Adumim on the eastern outskirts of Jerusalem has become a flashpoint of the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis.

Right-wing Israeli politicians, emboldened by a more sympathetic Trump administration, want to annex it to Israel proper - the first formal annexation of a settlement.

Supporters of the move argue that in the long absence of negotiations, Israel cannot stand still, and Ma'ale Adumim would likely be a part of Israel in any case.

Palestinians fear Ma'ale Adumim will be just the beginning of the annexation of settlements in the West Bank, now home to roughly 400,000 Jews, and the end of the two-state dream.

"We believe in two states for two nations but if they took that (Ma'ale Adumim), there will be no longer two states," said Mr Yousef Mostafa Mkhemer, chairman of the Organisation of Jerusalem Steadfastness, which focuses on issues like Muslim holy sites, refugee camps and Israeli settlements. "There will be one state called Israel."

After eight years of little building, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has just allotted 100 new building units to Ma'ale Adumim, part of 2,500 new proposed housing units around the West Bank settlements, and another 560 in East Jerusalem.

Mr Netanyahu has proclaimed this as just the beginning of a new wave of building.

Much of the outside world's attention has focused on more religious settlements deeper into the West Bank, or on land with Palestinian titles in more direct conflict with Palestinians. But here, scrutiny has been intense on Ma'ale Adumim.

It is partly symbolic: Israel has not annexed 1967 land beyond East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. Opponents of the move fear it would be the start of a process that would not end until politicians achieved their dreams of annexing large swathes of the West Bank and leaving the Palestinians with what Mr Netanyahu recently called "a state-minus".

It is partly strategic: The settlement is at the heart of entrenched plans to expand Jerusalem, linking it to the city proper, along with other nearby settlements that function in practice as Jerusalem suburbs.

One issue with Ma'ale Adumim, critics argue, is its place in the West Bank, between north and south, that combined with other building plans could both hamper the transit of Palestinians and threaten the contiguous borders of any future Palestinian state.

Many Palestinians argue that the annexation could ignite another round of violent revolt.

A Palestinian flag was recently planted in a park in Ma'ale Adumim, a worrying sign for residents that the less expensive, less harried life in their suburb may change.

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 01, 2017, with the headline 'West Bank city set to be annexation test case'. Print Edition | Subscribe