Israel expands operations at Allenby Bridge crossing to 24 hours a day
U.S. Ambassador Tom Nides pushes on with key Israeli-Palestinian project despite diplomatic tension
Jeries Mansour, US Office of Palestianian Affairs
Last week’s tensions between President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have not deterred U.S. Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides from pushing ahead with one of his key projects: ensuring Israel keeps its commitment to expand and improve daily operations at the Allenby Bridge Border Terminal in order to ease passage for Palestinians traveling between the West Bank and Jordan.
On Sunday, just over a week since the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, the crossing launched its 24-hour operational schedule. It will now remain open through the night, five days a week – reducing hours only for the Jewish Sabbath starting Friday evening through Saturday night, at least through the summer months.
Nides, who since his arrival in Israel in November 2021 has been pressing Israel to keep a promise to the U.S. administration to open the bridge 24 hours a day, told Jewish Insider that he is determined to see projects aimed at improving daily life for hundreds of thousands of Palestinians go ahead.
“We are friends, and friends are going to argue, they’re even going to argue aggressively, but clearly we will remain friends and allies,” Nides, who visited the crossing on Sunday to view its full-time operations and to discuss ways to further improve the process for Palestinians, told JI.
Accompanied by representatives from the U.S. Embassy and from U.S. development agency USAID, as well as Israeli officials from the Israel Airports Authority and COGAT (the Israeli military authority that coordinates government activities in the West Bank), Nides added: “We’re in the middle of Ramadan right now and anything that keeps things calm is very important.”
“I am focused on the security of Israel, and I fundamentally believe that a better life for the Palestinian people also helps the security of Israel,” Nides explained, describing the scene at the crossing as still “chaotic.” He added that the next stage of the plan is to find investments and funding that will improve the physical access to the border crossing.
The Allenby Bridge Border Terminal, which is also referred to as the King Hussein Bridge, opened for civilian use in 1994, following the signing of the Israel-Jordanian peace agreement. The facility has not been renovated in the nearly 30 years since.
Check-in counters and passport booths are not user-friendly or accessible for people with disabilities, and the allocation of space in the arrival and departure halls does not take into account the increasing numbers of those transiting through.
According to peace agreements forged long ago between Israel and Jordan, and Israel and the Palestinian Authority, the terminal is run by Israeli staffers and governed by Israeli laws, although it is largely used by Palestinians and a few foreign tourists and diplomats. The outdated facilities and stifling heat of the Jordan Valley, mixed with political and cultural tensions, makes transiting through the terminal uncomfortable and sometimes painful.
Data shared with JI last January shows that the overall flow of traffic through the terminal has been increasing rapidly since the early 2000s, reaching more than 2.8 million passengers a year in 2019. Through the pandemic, the number of those transiting dwindled and the terminal opened for only a few hours each day. A rush of returning travelers caught those manning the crossing off-guard in late 2021 and finding additional workers proved a challenge, Alex Chen, director of the Allenby Border Crossing, told JI.
Nides has remained steadfast in pushing Israel to expand its operations at the crossing, and six months ago a weeklong pilot program was launched. Following its success, Israel set Ramadan as its goal by which to permanently open the terminal for 24 hours a day.
“I’ve been working on this for six months and every time they say yes, they then found a reason why they couldn’t do it,” Nides, who described non-stop meetings with Israeli officials to ensure the bridge would open, said. “Literally a week ago they called me and said that the workers at the bridge were going for higher wages, and I said ‘No, no, no, you’re opening it, you promised,’ and somehow they found the money to take care of it.”
“I know this is not grandiose stuff,” the envoy said. “I’m just trying to make life a little easier because I think it’s good for Israel.”