E1 is a crucial connector between Jerusalem and one of the largest Jewish settlements in the West Bank, Maale Adumim, which Israel would like to retain under any peace agreement with the Palestinians. It is also highly controversial, since critics say it would effectively divide the West Bank in two; the narrow corridor for north-south traffic that would remain, they contend, would be impractical in many cases and potentially vulnerable to Israeli closures for security reasons.
Last month, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that Israel would revive plans to develop E1, eliciting an unusually strong statement of disapproval from the US State Department. The move was seen as both punishing the Palestinians for pursuing statehood recognition in the United Nations, and bolstering Mr. Netanyahu’s standing with right-wing voters ahead of Jan. 22 elections.
Netanyahu had appeared to quietly back off those plans in recent weeks, but the events in Bab Al-Shams village revived the issue. After weeks of polls showing that he was rapidly losing ground to Jewish Home party leader Naftali Bennett, who advocates settlement and opposes a Palestinian state, Netanyahu took swift action.