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WEST BANK: Building the airport before the state

October 20, 2010 |  9:56 am

In its "Palestine: Ending the Occupation, Establishing the State" program presented in August 2009, the Palestinian Authority said that one of its objectives is the construction of Palestine International Airport in the West Bank.

Prime Minister Salam Fayyad said in the forward to the document that this program "centers around the objective of building strong state institutions capable of providing, equitably and effectively, for the needs of our citizens, despite the [Israeli] occupation." He gave his program two years to be implemented.

The Ministry of Transportation, delegated the task of following up on building the airport, said Wednesday that it had completed all necessary feasibility studies and that groundbreaking will take place in the first half of next year.

Minister of Transportation Saadi Kurunz said that the planned international airport will be built on a 5-square-mile plot in an open area of the West Bank between Jerusalem and the ancient city of Jericho.

The area is considered Area C, according to the Oslo peace accords' breakdown of the West Bank. Area C means it is a sparsely populated area that falls under full Israeli control. About two-thirds of the West Bank falls into this category.

The Palestinian Authority cannot be present, let alone carry out any kind of work, in Area C, which Palestinians hope will one day be part of their independent state.

But this is not supposed to deter the Palestinians because the building program is set to specifically challenge Israel's control of Area C.

"An airport means sovereignty, freedom, progress and economic development," Kurunz said.

He said the Palestinian Authority "did not and will not ask permission from Israel" to build the airport. It wants to do it "despite the occupation," he added.

"Even though Israel says it does not oppose the establishment of a Palestinian state, it nevertheless does not want it to have what would make it viable. Israel wants to keep military presence in the Jordan Valley, which is predominantly Area C, and it wants control over the borders, airspace and sea." he said.

Kurunz stressed that the Oslo accords specifically give the Palestinians the right to build two airports -– one in the West Bank and the other in the Gaza Strip.

An airport was built in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip near the Egyptian border, in the late 1990s and was briefly used by the Palestinians before Israel destroyed it in several air strikes since 2000.

Fayyad's state-building plan has been endorsed by foreign governments, including the U.S. and the European Union, which have praised it and expressed willingness to help finance the projects.

The new airport is estimated to cost $340 million, which means the Palestinian Authority will not be able to finance it alone. It is therefore going to ask the international community for help.

Kurunz said the feasibility studies were prepared according to International Civil Aviation Organization requirements and that the airport is planned to accommodate cargo and passenger planes of all sizes.

The Palestinian Authority is already training staff to run the airport once it is built.

-- Maher Abukhater in Ramallah, West Bank