The Israeli building program known as E1 (East-1), situated between Jerusalem and Ma’ale Adumim, has been a major point of friction with the Palestinians and opposition from the United States and other nations. Though first proposed decades ago, it has yet to be implemented.
The site for the E1 building plan extends over an area of about 4.6 sq. miles, most of it state land, northward and westward of the Jerusalem-Ma’ale Adumim road. Through this plan, Israel wants to link Ma’ale Adumim – a city established east of Jerusalem in 1977, in which nearly 50,000 people now live – with the ridge of Mount Scopus within Jerusalem’s municipal jurisdiction. More than 50 percent of the E1 lands are defined and planned as green areas.
Ma’ale Adumim is located about four miles east of Jerusalem on the Jerusalem-Jericho road, close to the northern Jerusalem neighborhoods of Pisgat Zeev, French Hill, and Ramat Eshkol. Ma’ale Adumim’s dependence on Jerusalem for employment, commerce, culture, and education, and the lack of a significant urban center in the city, make Ma’ale Adumim in many regards a suburb of Jerusalem.
Between Ma’ale Adumim and Jerusalem lie a few Arab villages: Abu Dis, Azariya, A-Zaim, and Isawiya. The road that connects Jerusalem and Ma’ale Adumim is Highway 1, which ends at the entrance to Ma’ale Adumim. Access to Highway 1 from Jerusalem is in the French Hill area and via the newer Mount Scopus road. Using that road, one can get from Jerusalem to Ma’ale Adumim in about five minutes.
Three residential neighborhoods, as well as an area for commerce, industry, and hotels, are envisaged for E1. So far only two residential neighborhoods totaling 3,500 housing units have been planned. An additional residential neighborhood, the northern one, and the commercial-industrial zone, which is supposed to link E1 to Jerusalem, are frozen for planning and legal reasons unconnected to the political controversy over the program. A police station and a network of roads and infrastructure have, however, already been built in E1.
The linking of Jerusalem to Ma’ale Adumim is an overriding Israeli interest for several reasons:
- Israel cannot allow Ma’ale Adumim to become like Mount Scopus in the 1948-1967 period, when the mount was an isolated Israeli enclave under UN custody with only a road connecting to it.
- Israel cannot allow a situation to emerge of security and urban discontinuity between Jerusalem and Ma’ale Adumim, or the reversion of Jerusalem to a border-town status (as was the case before the Six-Day War) that would preclude the city’s eastward development.
- Israel cannot tolerate a threat to the Jerusalem-Jericho road, on which illegal Palestinian construction is encroaching. This artery is of supreme strategic importance to Israel. In time of war it would enable moving large quantities of troops to the Jordan Valley and northward, as Israel mobilized its forces to contend with a possible “eastern front.”
- The area of Ma’ale Adumim, including E1, is part of the strategic depth that Israel requires in the context of defensible borders – again, in the face of an eastern front, and to make it possible to defend its capital, Jerusalem.
- The area of settlement around Jerusalem, including Ma’ale Adumim, constitutes part of the metropolitan area of Jerusalem. This area incorporates both settlement and security as two vital, complementary components of the Israeli national interest.
There is an almost complete Israeli consensus on the need to link Ma’ale Adumim to Jerusalem via construction in E1, and on the need to retain this territory under Israeli sovereignty within the country’s permanent borders.
It was immediately after the Taba talks in January 2001 that the Palestinians decided to fight the E1 plan and recruit the world to the struggle. During the talks, Israel showed the Palestinian delegation a map of Ma’ale Adumim that included the E1 area. Up to that time, the Palestinians had tended to agree to Israeli annexation of most of the settlement blocs, including Ma’ale Adumim, in the context of territorial swaps. The Israeli assertion that the Ma’ale Adumim bloc included E1, as well as land further east toward the Dead Sea, prompted a shift in the Palestinian position, and they retracted their prior agreement regarding Ma’ale Adumim.
The Palestinians oppose both the plan and the solution that Israel proposes for ensuring transportation continuity between the northern and southern West Bank. The solution Israel is offering the Palestinians is the use of what is effectively a bypass road (the literal Hebrew term is “fabric-of-life road”). This road would pass between Ma’ale Adumim to the east and Jerusalem to the west, allowing the Palestinians free movement from the Ramallah area to the Bethlehem area.
The bypass road will have two lanes. First, there is a lane for vehicles that have come out of the Israeli security envelope and, therefore, there is no concern that they could pose a security risk. Second, there is a lane for traffic coming out of the Palestinian security envelope, which Israel cannot be certain about from the standpoint of security. This separation of traffic into two lanes is not based on religious, ethnic, or national distinctions since Palestinian Arab residents of Jerusalem and Israeli Arabs will be expected to use the lanes for Israeli traffic.
Where the traffic from both security systems mix on one road, the Palestinian vehicles would have to undergo time-consuming security checks at roadblocks. The bypass road is designed to allow for rapid north-south movement in the West Bank with no interference from Israeli security authorities.
The Palestinian opposition to the bypass road is based on the claim that having only a transportation link between the northern and southern West Bank is unsatisfactory. In the wake of the Oslo accords, however, the roads in the West Bank became essential arteries for both the Palestinian and Jewish populations, with a dual use: for common transportation, and to create separation and prevent friction between the communities.
The basic concept of a road as something not only intended for transportation purposes but also as a solution to political problems was initially accepted by the Palestinian Authority as a way to create a “safe passage” linking Gaza and the West Bank. The Palestinians and the Israelis compromised on the “safe passage” issue, each conceding a principle: the Palestinians gave up contiguity between the West Bank and Gaza, while Israel agreed to the creation of a passage with some attributes of foreign land within its own territory.
Roads like the proposed bypass already exist. There is separate Palestinian traffic, for example, on the underpass road between Bidu and el-Jib in the Givat Zeev area. Road 443 between Jerusalem and Modiin, which mostly serves the Jewish population, is crossed by passageways that serve Palestinians only. The old Road 60, running north-south along the central mountain ridge from the Wadi Harima area southward to the Beit El and Ramallah areas, currently serves Palestinians only. The section of old Road 60 from Karmei Tzur in the direction of Halhoul also serves Palestinians only, as does the road eastward from Ofra through Taibe in the direction of Kochav Hashachar and Rimonim, and the passage through Beitin (between Ofra and Beit El). Jews, meanwhile, are not allowed to travel on the old Jerusalem-Hebron road that passes Solomon’s Pools and Deheishe; only Palestinians may use it. These roads provide direct and convenient transportation links that enable both Israelis and Palestinians to reach their desired destinations without having to unnecessarily pass through areas that would complicate and lengthen their travel time.
By delaying its implementation of the decision to build E1, Israel incurs a double cost. First, the linking of Jerusalem and Ma’ale Adumim, to ensure that this strategic area will remain part of Israel, is yet to be achieved. After years in which a consensus prevailed on keeping this an Israeli territory in the context of the permanent settlement, the delay erodes this national consensus.
Second, Palestinian and Bedouin settlement is encroaching on this space all the time, the great majority of it illegal: that is, this Palestinian construction is executed without any building permit. Security officials believe that some of the Bedouin migration into the E1 area stems from fear of being left outside the route of the separation fence, which is intended to incorporate the Adumim bloc (including E1) into Israeli territory.
According to the Oslo II Interim Agreement, the territory between Jerusalem and Ma’ale Adumim has been designated as Area C, meaning that the powers of zoning and planning were retained here by Israel. Illegal Palestinian construction enables the takeover of vitally important land, some of it within the E1 area.
Sometimes the building is supported by European organizations or by elements associated with the Palestinian Authority and, also, according to military sources, by the PA itself. Also helping to entrench the illegal permanent presence of the Bedouin in the area is UNRWA (the United Nations Relief and Works Agency), which provides them with food and winter equipment while tending to their medical needs as if they are refugees. European organizations support the schools the Bedouin have set up and, with help from the PA, supply them with buildings and water containers.
The Palestinians’ illegal construction begins within municipal Jerusalem north of Highway 1 at a site called Sha’ar Mizrach. This is mostly Jewish-owned territory occupying about 180 dunams (about .7 square miles) in the Anata area. Although this tract of land has potential for linking Jerusalem to E1, the state is not allowing the land’s owners to exercise their ownership and is not acting against the illegal Palestinian building there.
Israel has refrained from acting mainly because of international pressure and agitation by opponents of any Israeli presence in the West Bank. Even Israel’s attempt to fulfill the letter of the law and settle the illegal interlopers, after evacuations, within permanent and legal settlement sites – such as the one set up at the end of the 1990s on the outskirts of Abu Dis – has not gone well. Occasionally the government issues demolition orders for buildings created without permits. In almost all cases the transgressors, with the help of various organizations, petition the Supreme Court against the Civil Administration, which issues the demolition and work-stoppage orders.
Over the years this situation, in which Israel has had difficulty coping with extensive illegal building, has reduced the width of the corridor between Jerusalem and Ma’ale Adumim from about two kilometers (1.2 miles) approximately fifteen years ago to one kilometer (.6 miles) and even less at present. This also constricts the possibilities for building in E1 and the adjacent areas.
Security officials warn that if Israel does not take significant steps to stop the Palestinian takeover of these areas, it may be impossible to carry out the E1 entire plan.
All Israeli governments since Yitzhak Rabin’s second tenure as prime minister in the 1990s have supported the program, appreciating the need to create an Israeli urban continuity from Jerusalem to Ma’ale Adumim, leading out to the Dead Sea and the Jordanian border. That need is incorporated in the Israeli security and urban planning concept, which views Jerusalem and its nearby Jewish communities as a single metropolitan space – “metropolitan Jerusalem.”
The plan is embroiled in an intense international dispute centering on the position of the Palestinians, who seek to prevent what they call the bisection of the West Bank – which, they claim, would torpedo the option of a Palestinian state and preclude a sovereign and urban continuity between the northern and the southern West Bank.
Despite frequent declarations of their commitment to Ma’ale Adumim and the E1 building plan, all recent prime ministers have acceded to American requests (likely backed by threats) – usually within about 24 hours of announcing an intention to begin construction – to freeze or to coordinate with the United States building in E1.
Sources: Nadav Shragai, “Protecting the Contiguity of Israel: The E-1 Area,” JCPA, (May 24, 2009);
Nadav Shragai, “Understanding Israeli Interests in the E1 Area: Contiguity, Security, and Jerusalem,” JCPA, (2013);
Nadav Shragai, “The End of Building Freezes in the Jerusalem Area,” JCPA, (March 8, 2020).
Excerpts courtesy of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.