The Palestinian Territory has been separated geographically since 1949, when Jordan gained control over the West Bank and Egypt over the Gaza Strip. Prior to that, both areas were ruled by the British (from WWI to 1948). Following the Israeli occupation of the Territory in the 1967 War, from 1967-91 Palestinians enjoyed fairly free mobility between the two regions. But since 1991 mobility restrictions increased, and since the disengagement from Gaza in 2005 and later developments, the two regions have been completely cut off from one another. The lack of mobility and transport between the West Bank and Gaza causes human and economic hardship, and it also violates the 1993 Oslo Agreement that recognizes the West Bank and Gaza as a single territorial unit.
In this article, we focus mainly on the Territorial Link between the West Bank and Gaza as part of the final status agreement. It is important to stress that as long as a direct Territorial Link is not built, it is impossible to set a safe passage, namely a fully normalized interim transit system between the West Bank and Gaza that utilizes existing Israeli roads. Our main conclusion in this study is that building the Territorial Link should start immediately. The reason for that is that its building might take a very long period, up to ten years. Furthermore, both sides agree in principle that the location of the Link will be determined by Israel, since both sides share the same interest, namely that the Link should be as short as possible. Hence, the fact that the Territorial Link is not yet in construction casts a shadow on the declared willingness of Israel to promote an agreement with the Palestinians.
- Political, Legal, Security and Socio-Economic Aspects of the Link
Legal Aspects of the Territorial Link
The Oslo agreement states that the final peace agreement between Israel and Palestine should include building a Territorial Link between the West Bank and Gaza which will pass within the territory of Israel. We assume in this paper that the legal status of the future Territorial Link should be based on Israeli sovereignty and Palestinian jurisdiction. Note that such a split between sovereignty and jurisdiction is the general principle, but such an arrangement requires careful attention to a number of important details:
- Deciding on physical barriers that separate a Territorial Link under Palestinian jurisdiction from Israeli infrastructure and population.
- Does the source of funding for the Territorial Link, be it international, Palestinian or Israeli, hold legal significance?
- Does the identity of the operator of the Territorial Link, whether international or Palestinian, affect legal considerations?
- Under what circumstances does the principle of servitude apply: by lease or by evident practice of long-term use of the Territorial Link?
Security and Safety Aspects Regarding the Link
From the Palestinian point of view, the Territorial Link must be secure from any possible disruption of traffic by Israel. From the Israeli point of view, a Link built on Israeli land that crosses Israel from east to west raises concerns as well. We believe that the best way to deal with the security concerns of both sides is by constructing a solid system of isolation using fences and a military presence both inside the Territorial Link (Palestinian) and outside of it (Israeli). We strongly believe that any Link, regardless of type, will have to be well-guarded until relations become more peaceful.
Socio-Economic Benefits of the Link
- Key Socio-Economic Benefits of a Direct Link
The current impediments imposed by Israel on the movement of goods and people between the West Bank and Gaza can teach us how important it is to establish the Territorial Link, as they show how vulnerable the Palestinian economy is to barriers to mobility. For example, currently Israeli regulations require Palestinians to completely unload their cargo and reload it onto Israeli trucks at each border crossing when passing through Israeli territory. It adds significant transaction costs to Palestinian commerce by the order of 50%-100%. Our paper on Palestinian development has shown that these increased transaction costs lead to significant reductions in output and productivity. The barriers to mobility cause not only economic hardship, but also cause human and social suffering, by cutting families and friends apart.
The Link will not only have a strong effect on output and productivity, but also on the structure of production and on specialization. Today, exports to Israel account for about 90% of Palestinian exports, while only 6% of Palestinian exports reach neighboring Arab countries, and only 4% reach the EU. Expansion of trade, as well as tilting the trade balance away from Israel, could reduce dependence on Israel and lessen vulnerability to political and security shocks. Also, Gaza could become the principal provider of perishable products such as vegetables and fish, requiring fast transit to the West Bank, thus eliminating the need for Israeli products. Increased trade ultimately generates more employment opportunities and raises wages.
- Short-Term Benefits of Establishing the Link
The construction of the Link itself will generate new Palestinian employment opportunities. Estimates place the total number of jobs involved to be in the hundreds over a 5 year construction period. Moreover, if this project were contracted in full or even in part to the domestic private sector, an additional benefit would be the development of private Palestinian construction firms. Mixed foreign and domestic management of construction could facilitate the transfer of project management skills and construction technologies, augmenting the domestic construction industry.
- Increased Palestinian Trade in the Regional Perspective
As the PA is a member of the Arab Free Trade Area, and has free trade agreements with both the EU and the USA, it could capitalize greatly on improving its trade abilities. As a member of this community, the PA enjoys free access to this trade bloc and this potential trade capacity should be fully realized.
Arab market-oriented export growth would actually open a potentially large indirect export channel for Israel. Also, under a stable Israeli-Palestinian political arrangement, these markets will open to the direct export of joint Israeli-Palestinian products as well. Furthermore, the Territorial Link, together with the roads in the West Bank and Gaza could also be a Territorial Link between the Middle East and North Africa. Such a Link between the two parts of the Arab world can contribute significantly to Arab trade, which would greatly benefit the Palestinians.
- An Engineering Analysis of Possible Territorial Links
Underlying Assumptions of Analysis and Planning Principles
The assumptions for the engineering analysis are as follows:
- Operating the connection will be possible only after achieving a political agreement between Israel and the Palestinian state.
- A central Palestinian entity will govern both the West Bank and Gaza.
- In the framework of the agreement, procedures regarding control and use of the Link will be settled, including among others: the issue of sovereignty and civil powers; the system of laws and regulations; the right of free movement, interference procedures, and criminal and traffic law enforcement; the handling of casualties, security incidents, and hazardous materials leaks; procedures for the passage of goods and for transferring firearms, weapons, and troops; and procedures for infrastructure establishment and maintenance.
- The Territorial Link will be established as a separate road system between the West Bank and Gaza and will not allow connection to Israel.
- The Territorial Link will allow a continuous flow of goods and passengers according to Palestinian demand, and will also handle the transit of goods and passengers between Egypt and the Arab
- The Territorial Link will not interfere with Israeli territorial contiguity and will not disrupt the traffic system within Israel.
- Planning will include an infrastructure corridor for transportation, railway, electricity, water, natural gas, etc.
- The approval of the route will require a statutory process within Israel.
- Donor countries and international institutions will fund the planning, establishment, and operation of the passage.
These assumptions lead to the following planning principles:
- There will be only one Link from the West Bank to Gaza assigned for Palestinian traffic.
- The passage will be part of the Palestinian state transportation system between different areas of the country and between Palestine and neighboring countries.
- The Link route will adhere to civil planning principles, such as safety, security, environmental concerns and protected areas, land use, future plans, existing and planned infrastructure, and other considerations.
- The passage through Israel will be as short as possible.
- The infrastructure will be flexible enough to endure various political and security scenarios.
Alternative Means of Transportation and Construction Methods
- Alternative Means of Transportation:
- Highway: It saves waiting and loading/unloading time. The separate passage of each vehicle allows continuous movement. On the other hand, autonomous vehicular traffic does not allow for the control of each vehicle. In addition, infrastructure is required to prevent the flow of vehicles and passengers from the main route to the surrounding areas.
- Train: A train is characterized by one route of journey, with no option of changing directions or routes. It allows the transit of a large number of passengers and cargo. The railway is easy to control and monitor. The disadvantage of a train is the high cost of infrastructure, and high costs of operation (passage from vehicles to train and back). Lack of current trains in the Palestinian territory make this idea very problematic.
- Monorail: This rapid transit system is based on a single rail track that employs powerful electromagnets. The idea has been tested in many places in the world and found to be less effective for commercial use. Today monorail systems are mainly used on limited routes at tourist sites and airports. The advantages of the monorail system are very high speed and the lack of air pollution. The main disadvantage of the system is the limited weight the system can bear. To that we can add all of the disadvantages of a train above.
- Alternative Construction Methods:
These are the four suggested methods of construction of a road: surface, underground, bridge or submerged highway. Each of these construction methods has pros and cons.
- Surface: This is the conventional method for roads and railways. It is the least costly to construct.
- Underground: A tunnel has a number of great disadvantages: construction and maintenance are very costly, and it takes a long time to build. The tunnel has an advantage from an Israeli security perspective as it is difficult for people traveling in it to get out, but a tunnel has a security disadvantage for Palestinians, since it is very sensitive to bombings.
- Bridge: The advantage of a bridge is that it is ecological and also provides for the security of Israel. The disadvantage is that it has very limited options for future development and it also damages the landscape.
- Submerged Highway: This concept was developed by engineer Giora Shilony with the intention of hiding the transportation system from the ground. The disadvantages of this method are the damage to ecological systems, the high cost of construction and the need to supply surface emergency traffic connections.
- Conclusions from Analysis of Transportation Methods:
- The monorail will not answer the Palestinian need for the massive transfer of goods and cargo, and thus is not being considered.
- The use of a train alone requires much loading/unloading, parking lots and transportation terminals on both sides and is therefore too costly. We therefore recommend integrating rail into the infrastructure corridor but as a secondary means of transportation.
- The tunnel and bridge alternatives were found to be expensive and to hamper future expansion of development of the Link. Their contribution to security is marginal and can be replaced by other means. In addition to that, a 50 km long tunnel could lead to serious safety issues and require above ground bypass roads.
- The best alternative, according to our analysis, is a surface road, combined with a railroad throughout.
For the planning of the Territorial Link, unique characteristics should be added: physical isolation, different heights when meeting existing and planned roads, emergency entrance and exit ramps, and a central command and control system. In specific places where required due to the abovementioned conditions, or where friction with Israeli needs might occur, a bridge or tunnel bypass of limited length may be implemented.
Possible Connection Points of the Territorial Link
- Possible Connection Points in Gaza
- Erez: Located in northern Gaza, with convenient access from the Palestinian side, Erez is a busy crossing for pedestrians and goods.
- Karni: It is in northeast Gaza and it has a large terminal for transferring goods between Israel and Gaza. Its advantage is easy access to Gaza City and nearby open areas for future development.
- Kerem Shalom: It is located in southwest Gaza and serves as a main transit terminal between Gaza, Egypt, and Israel. Its advantage is the possible connection to Egypt, but its disadvantage is in its relative distance from Gaza City and the West Bank.
- Possible Connection Points in the West Bank
- Tarkumiya: It is located in the eastern part of the Hebron district in the southern West Bank. Its advantage is proximity to Gaza and that it has the only good road in the area that leads to it in the steep topography of the Hebron Mountains.
- El Majed: It is located southwest of the Hebron district, between Shekef and Shomria, at the closest point to Gaza. Its advantage is minimal passage through Israeli territory and relative isolation from other functions. Its disadvantage is the need to build a new road to connect it to the central Mountain Road. A significant advantage of the site is the possibility to continue the railroad into the West Bank at a reasonable slope.
- Kramim Crossings: It is located south of the Hebron district and serves as a major crossing point from the southern West Bank to Beer Sheva and the Negev in Israel. Its advantage is its connection to the Mountain Road, while its disadvantages are in its proximity to the Israeli villages of Meitar and Kramim, its proximity to one of the passages between Palestine and Israel, and in its greater distance to Gaza.
- Latroon (Beit Sira): It is located west of the Ramallah district. Its main advantages are in access to the northern and central West Bank, as well as its distance from the passage to Israel. The main disadvantage is the length of the route required within Israel.
In our research we reached a conclusion not to determine the exact location of the route. The main reason for that is that we think that the decision on the location of the road should be left to Israel. First, because the road passes through its area. Second, because the Palestinians and the Israelis have the same interests with respect to the road, as both prefer it to be as short as possible: The Israelis for reasons of limited sovereignty and security, and the Palestinians for reasons of having as short a travel time as possible.
- Security Considerations
The main security threats to Israel are attacks from the Link and the use of the Link for transferring troops, weapons and arms inside Palestinian territory. The main Palestinian security threats are attacks on the Link’s infrastructure and passengers. The main ways to cope with these security threats is to envelop the Territorial Link with sufficient physical barriers and to add to them significant patrolling. Adding to these measures various ways of electronic monitoring of the Link and its surrounding areas can help to significantly reduce risks to both sides. To these measures we should also add coordination and focused intelligence cooperation, and operational coordination between the two states and the relevant authorities.
- Estimated Engineering and Construction Costs
Based on the Trans-Israel Highway experience and the National Roads Company experience, the basic price for such routes is US$8 million per km. To this price, one should add the cost of expropriations, planning, administration and supervision, unpredictable expenses (20 percent), and VAT (17 percent). For the submerged highway section, an addition of about 20 percent for water carriers should be taken into consideration. Expanding existing roads, which requires more agricultural paths and interchanges could add 10 percent. To that we should also add the cost of building the two crossing areas with the facilities for security checks and the building of fences along the Link. Hence, the total costs of the Link will probably surpass US$1 billion.
As for the cost of railways, a price is about US$6 million per km. This price includes double railways and infrastructure, routing means, supporting walls, expropriation, planning, administration and supervision, and VAT. It does not include the construction of stations and a maintenance depot, infrastructure for an electrical train or the train itself.
- Final Conclusions and Recommendations for Further Procedures
- From financial and engineering considerations, it is recommended that the monorail, tunnel, and bridge options be abandoned, and to focus on an above ground transportation system that will include a road and a railway.
- It is recommended to immediately promote a statutory planning process, supported by an early engineering plan to determine and ensure the route, including examination of the route.
- Since the plan requires an Israeli government resolution, a draft resolution should be prepared, accompanied by suitable planning and political background.
- It is recommended to promote a collaborative planning effort with professional Palestinian representatives and the donor countries’ organization as soon as possible.
- The long preliminary processes and duration of construction require an early beginning of the project in order to enjoy its benefits as soon as a permanent agreement between the parties is realized.
- We believe that rather than waiting for the signing of a final status agreement, now is the time to begin constructing a Territorial Link as it is integral to a future “Two State” solution, and its construction time will be very long, between seven to ten years.
 In the paper of the Territorial Link, the authors explain how the cut flower industry is an example for the potential growth of the Palestinian Trade. (Aix Group 2010), pages 156-157.
 See chapter on Trade in the Aix Group book on the API.
 For more details check (Aix Group 2010) page 164, Table 1: Comparison of Transport Systems and Construction Methods.
 Check Appendix 1 for a detailed map.
 Check Appendix 2 for a detailed map.