Israel’s Roads and Tunnels Plan

October 23, 2005


1. What is Israel’s Roads and Tunnels Plan?

Israel is currently building two separate transportation networks in the occupied West Bank: one for Palestinians, the other for Israeli settlers. “The Roads and Tunnels Plan” refers to the series of 24 tunnels and 56 roads for Palestinians. Meanwhile, Israel is constructing a separate highway network to link settlements (colonies) on both sides of the Wall with Israel and each other. Together, both transportation networks serve to facilitate settlement expansion throughout the Israeli-occupied West Bank while limiting any future Palestinian development.

Launched in September, 2004, the Roads and Tunnels Plan will enable the permanent segregation of Palestinians and Israeli settlers. Currently, Israel grants settlers freedom of movement within the occupied West Bank by denying freedom of movement to indigenous Christian and Muslim Palestinians. This is known as the “closure regime” – a matrix of military checkpoints, Palestinian-free or Palestinian-restricted roads, and obstacles that frustrate travel and trade between Palestinian areas.

The closure regime, according to the World Bank and the United Nations, is in large part responsible for the humanitarian crisis in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Now, Palestinians cannot freely move between Palestinian towns and villages, frustrating access to school, work, churches and mosques, and health care. During the past four years, 60.6% of Palestinians have been forced into poverty as a result of the closure regime, subsisting on $2.30 per day or less.1

Part of the closure regime is the “back-to-back” system, which requires goods to be offloaded then on-loaded into a new truck at the other side of a roadblock or earth mound erected by the Israeli military, even when transferring goods between some Palestinian villages. Because the back-to-back system can increase transportation costs for Palestinian merchants by as much as 100-200%, goods from illegal Israeli settlements and Israel – not subject to the back-to-back system – gain an unfair competitive advantage.

The Roads and Tunnels Plan is Israel’s response to pressure from the international community to allow Palestinians to travel and trade within Palestinian territory. However, Palestinians already have an adequate road network, one that Israel restricts their access to: The problem is not the lack of infrastructure, but the closure regime, which restricts Palestinian access to their own roads, lands and cities.

2. What is the aim of Israel’s Roads and Tunnels Plan?

The aim of the Israeli army’s Roads and Tunnels Plan is threefold: (1) to consolidate Israeli colonies (settlements) throughout the West Bank; (2) to take more Palestinian land and resources for settlement expansion on both sides of the Wall; and (3) to isolate remaining Palestinians into discreet Palestinian population centers, connected only by circuitous roads.

In the future, according to the Israeli Plan, traffic will not mix in the West Bank. Israeli settlers would enjoy a “Palestinian free” West Bank transportation scheme and would continue to use fast and direct highways that connect West Bank settlements to Israel and to each other.

For example, the distance Palestinians traveled between Tulkarem and Nablus on the traditional route was 27 km, with an average travel time of 40 minutes. On the proposed route, the distance will increase to 40 km, resulting in a 73 minute journey, over hilly terrain. These increased distances and slower travel times will decrease the competitiveness of Palestinian products regionally by increasing the costs of Palestinian goods and services.

3. How many roads and tunnels are there in the Plan?

Officially there are 24 tunnels and 56 roads listed in the Roads and Tunnels Plan.

4. But aren’t there already roads in the West Bank?

Yes. An adequate network of roads does exist. Palestinians, however, are prevented from using many of the roads without permits, which are reserved instead to provide Israeli access to illegal settlements. Palestinians do not need a new network of roads; they just need to be able to freely use the roads they already have, which is their right under international law.

For a detailed analysis of Israel’s the closure regime – the system of restricted and prohibited roads, military checkpoints, and road blocks – please see: “Forbidden Roads,” B’TSELEM, available at, last checked October 23rd, 2005.

5. Does Israel’s Roads and Tunnels Plan reveal anything about Israel’s “Disengagement” Plan?

Yes. The Roads and Tunnels Plan demonstrates that Gaza “Disengagement” is less about what Israel is “giving up” in Gaza and more about what Israel is taking in East Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank.

Under the Gaza “Disengagement” Plan, Israel removed roughly 8,000 settlers from the Gaza Strip and roughly 500 settlers from 4 illegal settlements in the northern West Bank. Meanwhile, the Roads and Tunnels Plan is facilitating the expansion of the remaining West Bank settlements (colonies): Increased access and integration will provide more incentives to potential settlers to join 430,000 settlers living throughout the occupied West Bank. These figures illustrate the very limited scope of the West Bank component of Gaza “Disengagement.”

For a legal analysis of the Gaza “Disengagement” Plan, please see: “The Israeli Disengagement Plan: Gaza Still Occupied,” NEGOTIATIONS AFFAIRS DEPARTMENT, available Click Here Last checked October 23rd, 2005.

6. How did the Palestinian Authority (PA) react to Israel’s Roads and Tunnels Plan?

After analyzing the Roads and Tunnels Plan in September 2004, the PA determined that the Plan as a whole would strengthen Israeli settlements, substitute Palestinian territorial contiguity with transportation contiguity, and facilitate the continued presence of Israel’s Wall and its regime by diverting Palestinian traffic away from areas “west” of the Wall – the so-called “closed zones.”

For detailed explanation and analysis of “closed zones” – areas to which Israeli citizens, permanent residents, and any person capable of immigrating to Israel under its law of return enjoy free access, but areas to which Palestinians must periodically obtain permits to live in their homes or tend their fields – please see: “Israel’s Wall,” NEGOTIATIONS AFFAIRS DEPARTMENT,  last checked October 23rd, 2005.

The PA also determined, however, that not all of the roads projects were detrimental to Palestinian national interests and the two-state solution. Because the Israeli army had destroyed Palestinian infrastructure during the second intifada, many existing roads needed to be rehabilitated so that Palestinians could get to school, access their fields, engage in trade, or go to mosque or church. Accordingly, in October 2004, the Palestinian Cabinet rejected the Plan as a whole, and the Inter-Ministerial Committee devised a method of rating the roads to determine the extent to which they support the Wall regime or the segregated roads system, and whether or not they were in accord with Palestinian needs and planning, including existing plans for the upgrading of the Palestinian road network. Based on that, the PA made recommendations to the international donor community – which Israel had asked to pay for the Plan – as to whether or not particular projects could be funded.

7. What was the international community’s response to Israel’s Roads and Tunnels Plan?

When maps of the Wall and settlements were overlaid with the Roads and Tunnels Plan, it became clear that the Plan supports the Wall and the continued presence of settlements (colonies), which preempt implementation of the two-state solution.

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) concluded on July 9, 2004 that the construction of the Wall in Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT), including in and around East Jerusalem, and its associated regime, are contrary to international law. In reaching this conclusion, the court also determined that Israel’s establishment of settlements within the OPT to be unlawful. In light of these findings, the ICJ determined that states are under an obligation not to recognize the illegal situation resulting from the construction of the Wall in the OPT nor to render aid or assistance in maintaining the situation created by such construction. States are also under an obligation, while respecting the UN Charter and international law, to see to it that any impediment to the exercise of self-determination, resulting from the construction of the Wall, is brought to an end.

Out of concern of acting in violation of their obligations articulated by the ICJ, and in response to PA opposition to the Plan, most donor governments appropriately turned down Israel’s request to fund the Plan.

8. Is Israel continuing with implementing the Plan, despite the rejection of the Plan by the international community and the PA?

Yes. Of the 24 tunnels identified in the Roads and Tunnels Plan devised by Israel, 2 are listed as “under construction” by Israel. They are (1) Habla, in the Qalqilya district, and (2) Jubara, in the Tulkarem district. The Habla tunnel has been operating since September 2004. That leaves 22 proposed tunnels in the Plan. Additional tunnels not mentioned in the Plan are also under consideration or construction: Those under consideration include: (1) Biddu- Jib, (2) Hizma-Anata; those under construction: (1) Zaatara, (2) Beit Sahur-Ubaydiya. They appear to fit into the broader scheme of the Roads and Tunnels Plan.

The Plan also includes 56 roads. Nine are listed as under construction; 2 are listed as under construction, being funded by other donors. That leaves 45 other Palestinian Road Rehabilitation Projects proposed by Israel. Of the 11 Road Rehabilitation Projects listed as under construction (September 2004) 6 can be identified as completed as of June 2005. Of the 45 suggested other Road Projects, 3 can be identified as completed: (1) Beit Inan—Kihrbet al-Misbah; (2) Kufr Naame – Ras Karkar; and (3) Alfe Menashe – Ras Tireh.

9. What does Israel’s Roads and Tunnels Plan mean for Palestinians and Israelis?


In the short term, the Plan means that Palestinians within the major Palestinian cities and towns will experience an easing of the closure regime. Once Palestinians can again engage in unrestricted trade between some Palestinian towns, their urban economies will improve.

In the long term, however, the Plan means the end of the two-state solution. Rather than ending the closure regime, the Plan entrenches it: In total, the Wall and Settlements regime, combined with the Roads and Tunnels Plan will only leave Palestinians with 54% of a fragmented West Bank; and while Palestinians will have better access to and between major Palestinian towns, Palestinians will lose access to much of their land and resources, as well as the most essential component of a viable Palestinian state: East Jerusalem.

The Plan facilitates the expansion of Israel’s settlements, considered a war crime under international law. The settlements (colonies) themselves are strategically placed throughout the West Bank, taking arable lands, water resources, and critical room for Palestinian development.

Moreover, the roads and tunnels also serve as barriers, fragmenting the Palestinian territory as they are often nearly as difficult to cross as the Wall. If enacted, the roads and tunnels will provide Palestinians with so-called “transportational contiguity” but will deprive any future Palestinian state of territorial contiguity, a requirement recognized by the international community, including the United States. This means that all Palestinian territory will be fragmented for the convenience of Israeli settlers.

Finally, the Plan will ultimately increase the burdens on an already-decimated Palestinian economy, exacerbating the dependence of the Palestinian economy and its position as a captive civilian market for Israeli (and Israeli colony) goods and a cheap labor force for Israel. This will continue to be an entity that will indefinitely remain dependent on hand-outs from the international community to avert humanitarian crises.

Rather than a positive step towards peace and an end to occupation, the Roads and Tunnels Plan – with the settlements and the Wall – is a unilateral attack on peace: Instead of joining Palestinians in an historic moment to achieve a just, negotiated solution to decades of conflict, Israel’s unilateral Plan amounts to a reformulation of the occupation and conflict for decades to come. 

  • 1.  Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics.
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