Plans to expand infrastructure in the Occupied West Bank are, once again, underway, with the construction of a new light rail in Israel. Last week, the Israeli Ministry of Transportation announced the revival of the government’s plans to build a light rail in Israel connecting settlements in the Occupied West Bank with cities past the Green Line.
Israeli Minister of Transportation, Israel Katz, announced last Wednesday plans to advance the construction of a new light rail that will connect the Israeli settlement of Ariel in the Western Occupied West Bank to central towns in Israel. The idea behind the plan for the new light rail in Israel is to reduce traffic congestion between settlements in the Occupied West Bank and main cities like Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
The light rail has a projected cost of NIS 4 billion ($1.16 billion) and is expected to begin operation in 2025. Planned stops along the route include Ariel’s local university and another at Barkan Industrial Zone along Route 5 before funneling past the Green Line. A similar plan had was announced back in 2012 by Katz, who has been Minister of Transportation in Israel since 2009, but never came to fruition.
A spokesperson for the Ministry told Times of Israel that the light rail is expected to end at the Tapuah Junction, which has been a flashpoint for struggles between Palestinians in the Occupied West Bank and Israeli settlers. There are also plans for the light rail, once past the Green Line, to possibly continue on to northern Rosh Ha’ayin, central Rosh Ha’ayin to Kiryat Aryeh, or run through southern Rosh Ha’aayin to Petah Tikvah.
Mayor of Ariel, Eli Shaviro, has praised the project and thinks that it “sends an important message regarding the importance of the continued development of the city.” He also believes that the new light rail will allow settlers in the Occupied West Bank to reach their workplaces, shopping centers, or entertainment venues quickly and safely.
A similar plan for a high speed train between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv was announced (paywall) in 2008, but was postponed on multiple occasions. The inauguration of the train has been delayed due to regulatory issues as well as almost a doubling in the train’s projected budget.
Earlier this year, Israel Katz, after announcing that the train was slated to begin operations by the end of March, pushed the inauguration back until September of this year. The train was supposed to reduce travel time for the 70 kilometers (44 miles) between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv to 28 minutes.
Aside from the political ramifications that a project like the light rail has on the ongoing Palestinian-Israeli conflict, many Israelis are frustrated with how the government prioritizes infrastructural upgrades. CityLab reported that, for the Israeli government, infrastructure projects come second to national and security interests. The ultra-orthodox community has also expressed frustration with the government’s policy on resuming construction during Shabbat.
Many Israelis are frustrated that the majority of infrastructure projects that the Israeli government commissions are in the Occupied West Bank, leaving infrastructural development in Israel largely stagnant. Geography Professor Yodan Rofe also told CityLab that projects like the high speed train between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv are racked with financial but also political challenges, which is largely why many are delayed beyond projected dates.
While Israel continues to work on developing infrastructure for settlers, Palestinians in the Occupied West Bank suffer from lengthy commute times. Between Ramallah and Jerusalem, which is a mere 20 kilometers (12 miles), Palestinians often wait for hours to get from one city to the other. And although Palestinians in cities like Ramallah have tried to remedy their traffic problems by introducing cab hailing apps like the UAE-based Careem, they continue to suffer from lengthy commutes and travel times due to checkpoints in between Palestinian cities.