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Red Faced over Red Earth

Avi Friedman

Officials in Jerusalem and Washington hailed President Obama’s visit as a rousing success. But a central issue of tension between Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu — Israeli construction in Judea and Samaria — is likely to retake center stage after Secretary of State John Kerry’s follow-up visit, and the spotlight might again shine on the most controversial of these projects: the tract of land known as E-1, which could be a key to Jerusalem’s future.

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

half red pictureThere is something compelling about the Judean Desert. Even at the end of a rainy winter, the brown hills to the east of Jerusalem are stark and barren, a sharp and sudden contrast from the hustle and bustle of the capital, a seven-minute drive away.

An observation deck at the edge of Maaleh Adumim, the Jewish city of 40,000 people situated on the highway that connects Jerusalem’s French Hill neighborhood to the ancient city of Jericho, provides an excellent vantage point to survey the dramatic physicality of the region: Densely populated green hills to the west leading up to the capital, empty desert slopes to the east leading down to the Dead Sea, the lowest spot on earth.

The view also takes in one of the most hotly contested areas of Judea and Samaria: the hill known in Israel as the E-1 corridor. Israel views the area as a critical belt to link Maaleh Adumim to Jerusalem; Palestinians say an additional Jewish community in the area would spell the end of a two-state solution because it would effectively cut the northern half of the Palestinian entity off from the southern half.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu set off a political firestorm in late November when he announced that Israel would respond to a unilateral Palestinian statehood move by moving forward with the planning stages for a new Jewish neighborhood at the site. Israel’s ambassadors to several European nations were summoned for furious condemnations by their host countries. Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Ron Prosor, questioned the wisdom of the announcement during an end-of-year series of meetings for Israeli diplomats in Jerusalem, and even the United States issued a stronger-than-usual condemnation of the plan.

Three months after the international uproar, and following Obama’s first presidential visit to Israel, during which efforts were made to play down differences between Israel and the US, E-1 today looks essentially the way it probably always has. The book of Yehoshua (15:7) described Maaleh Adumim, which means the “Red Slopes,” as a border between the tribes of Yehudah and Binyamin. Aside from a lonely sign announcing plans for Mevaseret Adumim, a new neighborhood of Maaleh Adumim, the only building on this barren, wind-swept hilltop is a three-story police station completed in May 2008; it now serves as the regional headquarters for Judea and Samaria. Looking up the hill from the building there is a Bedouin encampment, but few other signs of life.

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