In his article “USAID funding Israel’s apartheid road construction” (17 May 2010) Jonathan Cook levels a number of serious accusations against the Palestinian National Authority (PNA). While his disdain for Israel’s occupation is to be applauded, his criticisms of the PNA ignore some fundamental facts with regards to road construction in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. After studying the map referred to in the article (which compares a 2004 Israeli proposal with USAID funded roads), it is clear that all of the “22 percent” of the roads identified are not new roads, but are roads that already exist and are being rehabilitated to ensure both safety and easiness of travel for West Bank residents.
In the light of previous reports, including the article in the Nation and Jonathan’s cook article published in several outlets, a review meeting with concerned civil society organizations including those whose reports were quoted in the articles and representatives of relevant ministries was conducted. After deliberation and discussions, the meeting concluded that what was presented in the article is simply not true. First, there are no new roads being built, second, the PNA and not the USAID makes the ultimate decisions regarding proposed roads. Third, all the roads being worked on are part of the Palestinian map of 2004, which, in certain areas intersects with the Israeli map.
In 2004, under the Israeli Sharon-led government there were moves on the part of the Israelis to separate and limit contact between Palestinian and Israelis and establishing more segregated roads in the West Bank. Therefore, the Israelis produced a map that included already existing West Bank roads in order to divide them between Palestinians and Israelis. We never accepted such plans for segregating roads and the PNA is adamant in perusing Palestinian right to use any road in the West Bank and any road within the entire Palestinian Territory.
Israel continues to push an agenda aimed at maintaining its illegal settlements and further consolidate its occupation over Palestinians, the PNA is aware of this, and we are working to ensure that Israel does not supplant Palestinian sovereignty with its proposal of “transportation contiguity” in contrast with the geographic continuity that we insist on. This is done by ensuring each and every road is approved by a national committee composed of official experts representing the Ministry of Planning, Ministry of transportation, Ministry of Local Governance and the Negotiations Support Unit in which proposals for new roads are decided on the basis of objective criteria and Palestinian political and national interests.
The author also implies that USAID makes decisions on behalf of the PNA concerning road planning. This is simply incorrect. The Palestinian national plan has been in place since 1999 and it is the PNA which plans its roads and approves construction and rehabilitation by a national committee, the PNA is the ultimate decider on which proposed plan goes through.
Highlighting the ongoing injustices of Israel’s occupation and joining those committed to ending this occupation and establishing the independent Palestinian state in the territories occupied in 1967 including East Jerusalem is as important today as it ever was. Unfairly marring the PNA’s efforts to build a viable, sovereign and independent Palestinian state in the face of occupation does not bring us any closer to achieving that goal.
Dr. Ghassan Khatib
Spokesperson, Palestinian Government Media Center