The controversy over the expansion of the Israeli West Bank city of Ma'ale Adumim by setting up a new neighborhood on the E1 area is not only a dramatic political affair that has made the headlines recently, but also a major economic issue, which is liable to impact the future of the Palestinian economy. This is, in any event, what Abu Alaa (Ahmed Qurei), former Chairman of the Palestinian Parliament and the Ramallah-based Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority in the years 2003 to 2006, believes. Abu Alaa, 75, a banker and an economist by profession, lives in the Palestinian town of Abu Dis, which is located east of Jerusalem and overlooks Ma'ale Adumim and the controversial E1 area in the north, where the Israeli government intends to build the “Mevaseret Adumim” neighborhood.
The roadblocks are bound to drive away the tourists
Abu Alaa explains that the expansion of Ma'ale Adumim would inevitably entail the positioning of new roadblocks, which are liable to undermine the tourism sector in the Palestinian Authority. In the absence of any other potentially lucrative economic resources in the Palestinian Authority — at least not on the scale of tourism to the Palestinian Authority — the tourism sector is expected to be a major pillar of the Palestinian Authority’s economy.
So far, tourism to the Palestinian Authority has been primarily based on Christian pilgrims, whose number increased in recent years. However, Abu Alaa believes that there is also a vast potential for Muslim pilgrimage, which is virtually untapped at present.
Millions of Muslims are looking forward to visiting Al-Aqsa, the mosque where the Prophet of Islam, Muhammad, is believed by Muslims to have ascended to heaven to bring the Quran down to Earth; likewise, they yearn to see East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians regard as the future capital of the Palestinian state, once established. The only way they can reach East Jerusalem and the Al-Aqsa Mosque without having to pass through Israeli check points is from the east, via Jordan. Abu Alaa fears that in case the Muslim pilgrims will have to pass through roadblocks in Ma'ale Adumim, they will be deterred from coming and that no mass tourism of Muslims may then be expected.
It emerges from documents released last year by Al Jazeera TV that in May 2008, in the framework of talks on territorial swaps between Israel and the Palestinians, Abu Alaa, in his capacity as head of the Palestinian negotiating team with Israel, proposed to then-Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni that Ma'ale Adumim be evacuated by Israel or, alternately, that the residents of the Israeli West Bank city stay there under Palestinian control. Livni categorically rejected Abu Alaa’s proposal. As to the suggested option of having the residents of Ma'ale Adumim living under Palestinian control, Livni said: “It is completely unrealistic. They will be all killed the day after.”
Palestinian or Israeli enclaves
As a matter of fact, the controversial Israeli construction plans for the E1 area, designed to expand Ma'ale Adumim, bear not only on the issue of separation between the northern part of the future Palestinian state and its southern part, but also on the future of the Jewish and Arab towns and villages in the surrounding area. Israeli construction in the area would turn Abu Dis, Al-Azariyeh, Anata, a-Zaim and other Arab towns and villages into crowded and besieged enclaves, with no land reserves for expansion and development.
At the same time, Palestinian construction in this area would turn Ma'ale Adumim, Kfar Adumim and other nearby [Israeli] settlements into isolated, cut off communities. And this is, in a nutshell, the crux of the problem.