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Israel allows Palestinians on highway 443 to Ramallah – but blocks the exit

After a landmark court ruling, Israel's army today allowed Palestinians access to Road 443 for the first time in eight years. But they are still barred from using the road to get to Ramallah and Jerusalem – a 'farce' of the ruling, said one activist.

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"If this road is closed, it limits the access to the capital," he says. "From a security point of view, this is the reason why the road needs to be open, to facilitate the free flow of traffic from the coast region to the capital.''

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Lerner says the military is in full compliance with the court ruling because the justices neither insisted on linking the road to Ramallah nor spelled out specifically how the military should facilitate access between villages and the road itself. He argues that by opening six access points, the army is going above and beyond the requirements of the ruling. Lerner said on Friday that cars are stopped for an average of four minutes at security checkpoints.

The army says it spent over $40 million to build a separate road for Palestinians to reach the outskirts of Ramallah. But the road was recently unnavigable for about two months because winter weather caused a bridge to collapse. The army says the bridge has since been repaired.

Activist: Army policy makes a 'farce' of landmark ruling

Human rights activists note that the army originally justified confiscating Palestinian lands for the highway by insisting it would primarily serve the welfare of the Arab population.

Rights groups and the Palestinian villagers bemoan the fact that access to the highway for Palestinians will be severely limited – one entrance and two exits in each direction along the nine-mile stretch of West Bank road that connects Jerusalem's northern tip to the Israeli suburb of Modiin and eventually Tel Aviv.

Melanie Takefman, a spokeswoman for the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, which helped bring the case to the High Court, said the fact that Palestinian villagers will not be able to use 443 to visit Ramallah makes a "farce'' of a ruling originally hailed as a landmark case. The army, she said, is following the letter of the ruling but not the spirit of the ruling against the blanket ban.

In a December concurring opinion, Chief Justice Dorit Beinish wrote that banning Palestinians from the road creates "a sense of inequality and improper motives,'' though she rejected the comparison with apartheid.

West Bank economy grew nearly 10 percent in 2009

The timing of the opening coincided with Israel's announcement of a package of measures aimed at boosting the fledgling peace negotiations: removing 60 road barriers in the West Bank, removing a checkpoint on a heavily used road by Palestinians, freeing up tourist traffic to and from Bethlehem, easing movement for Palestinian businessmen, and allowing Arab citizens of Israel greater freedom to visit Palestinians in the West Bank.

Israel's decision to ease restriction on Palestinian traffic last year provided some economic relief to the northern West Bank because it allowed people and businesses to move around more efficiently and at lower costs.