Al Jazeera is reporting that demolition orders have been handed down to Palestinians in East Jerusalem, in connection with the goal of building a major new road cutting through the East Jerusalem Palestinian neighborhood of Jabal Mukaber. In addition, we have noted the beginning of construction of a new interchange at the A-Zayyem junction on the Jerusalem-Maaleh Adumim road.

Both of these developments may signal that the construction of the “Eastern Ring Road” is underway. The Eastern Ring Road has been on Israel’s planning boards for thirty years, approved for years but never implemented. If built, it would be the third most ambitious project in East Jerusalem since 1967 (after the large settlement neighborhoods and the separation barrier). It would circle the eastern boundary of the city from north to south, often adjacent to the separation barrier.

In principle, the road would serve the Palestinian residents of the city, allowing travel from the northern neighborhoods like Shuafat in the north to areas like Sur Bahir in the south, without encountering the traffic jams of the city center. But it has another motivation as well: allowing the movement of settlers between the northern and southern West Bank on a streamlined highway. And the road will require both expropriations and demolitions.

Under “routine” circumstances (which cannot exist under occupation) the road would be a good, albeit painful, endeavor if handled well; under today’s circumstances implementation of the project will be viewed as highly problematic and incendiary.

We don’t yet know if the recent road construction and the demolition orders are an indication that a decision has been made to proceed with the Eastern Ring Road or not.  The matter is important; we will monitor this closely and report on further developments in future issues of Insiders’ Jerusalem.