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Israel allows Palestinians on highway 443 to Ramallah – but blocks the exit

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"We won't have any benefits. It will be more complicated to go through new checkpoints,'' says Mayor Naji Suleiman of Beit Ghur a-Tahta, as he stood alongside a newly completed inspection booth and retractable steel column that Palestinians will need to pass through to get on the road. "It's like South Africa before [Nelson] Mandela…. I want to live in peace, but the Israelis want to keep control over everything.''

Army takes security precautions on 443

The Israeli army, meanwhile, has bolstered security along Road 443 in preparation for the change with extra barbed wire and video surveillance equipment.

Israel's government sees a grave security risk on a road where several motorists were killed in shootings and a suicide bombing during the first years of the Palestinian uprising that broke out in 2000. During the second half of 2007, the army counted nearly 60 incidents of rock-throwing and Molotov cocktail attacks.

Route 443 is "strategic'' because it is one of two highway links between Jerusalem and the coastal city of Tel Aviv, says Maj. Peter Lerner, a spokesman for the army's central command.

"If this road is closed, it limits the access to the capital," he says. "From a security point of view, this is the reason why the road needs to be open, to facilitate the free flow of traffic from the coast region to the capital.''

Lerner says the military is in full compliance with the court ruling because the justices neither insisted on linking the road to Ramallah nor spelled out specifically how the military should facilitate access between villages and the road itself. He argues that by opening six access points, the army is going above and beyond the requirements of the ruling. Lerner said on Friday that cars are stopped for an average of four minutes at security checkpoints.

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