Israel signaled that it was unwilling to tolerate nonviolent protest in E1, citing security concerns. But while E1 is among the most poignant and provocative locations Palestinian protesters could have chosen, critics of the Israeli government’s crackdown say it hardly amounted to a security threat.
“Is this going to incite the local goat population to sedition?” asks Daniel Seidemann, an Israeli attorney and founder of Terrestrial Jerusalem, which tracks developments that could jeopardize a two-state solution. “It is transparent that this was a use of military authority in order to thwart a nonviolent and legitimate political protest.”
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.