Arabs, already benefiting from rising land values around line under construction, clamor for more — including an extension into Palestine
Jerusalem’s almost-completed first phase of its new light rail system has generated considerable controversy — so much so that Mayor Nir Barkat has threatened replacing future extensions with bus rapid transit. The first 14-km project, which is expected to be completed next year, will extend through much of the metropolis, directly next to the Old City, and north past the 1949 Armistice Agreement “Green” Line towards Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank. These areas are on the Israeli side of the controversial West Bank Wall, even though they’re within the theoretically Palestinian zone.
Al Bawaba reports that Arabs living in Israeli territory — that is, non-Jews living in Israel — see the light rail’s construction as highly advantageous, and want its expansion further north into the West Bank. Already, rent prices for commercial storefronts along the route have increased by an astonishing ten times in anticipation of the rail system’s opening. The system is expected to make getting around the congested capital city far easier and unsurprisingly is projected to attract thousands of commuters, which is the obvious explanation for the sudden rise in property value.
Could the system be extended north to Ramallah, in truly Palestinian territory, as some of those interviewed for Al Bawaba’s article suggest? After all, shouldn’t the seriously impoverished West Bank be able to take advantage of some of the same positive economic effects that come with a new light rail system?
The obstacles are huge. Ramallah sits on the other side of the West Bank Wall, meaning the operation of a light rail line there would require the lifting of border checkpoints that today are required for people passing from one side of the barrier to the other. For those security facilities to be eliminated, Israel would have to be assured of a permanent peace with the Palestinians, something that neither side has been able to make possible… ever.
It’s a pipe dream, in other words, very unlikely in the next few decades.
The excitement over the possibilities for a new transit line suggest that Jerusalem’s line will be quite effective in transforming the daily habits of Israelis, decreasing commuting times and expanding connections between neighborhoods that have kept segregated for decades. It will be nice to watch Jews and Arabs commuting together, between Arab villages and Jewish towns, in modern rail vehicles. It will be yet another symbol of the ability of two peoples to live their lives in close proximity with one another.
An extension to Ramallah will never be allowed by the existing Israeli government, but a future in which conflict between these two states has been abandoned is possible and acheivable. When that day comes, transit can play an important part in making a working connection between the two happen.