Yossi Alpher
Bitterlemons (Opinion)
February 27, 2008 - 6:43pm

Under the circumstances, and by comparison to its predecessors, the current Palestinian Authority government in Ramallah led by President Mahmoud Abbas and PM Salam Fayyad is making reasonable progress toward fulfilling its roadmap phase I security obligations. Of course there is still a lot to be desired--but the PA deserves better than the degree of reciprocation it has received thus far from Israel.

A "lot to be desired" refers first and foremost to the Ramallah government's inability to deliver any aspect of security in and around the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip. There are parts of the West Bank, too, that appear to be ruled more by clans and gangs than by PA security forces, and there are indications that the Abbas/Salam government is sadly detached from the Palestinian public and unable to come to terms with the depth of crisis within Palestinian society brought on by the rise of Hamas. All of these lacunae have prompted some Israelis to argue that it is pointless to jeopardize Israeli security by making gestures to this Palestinian government.

On the other hand, there are notable Palestinian successes. The PA's amnesty program, closely coordinated with Israel, has neutralized several hundred otherwise dangerous men. The Palestinian police contingent sent to Nablus has been successful in disarming gangs and Hamas groups in that area. The murderers of two Kiryat Arba settler youth were apprehended, tried and jailed. And West Bank NGOs that channeled funds to Hamas have been brought under supervision. None of these tasks has been carried out to Israel's full satisfaction (witness the recent escape of detainees from the Nablus jail), but they certainly merit encouragement.

On balance, it is vital to the current peace process as well as to prospects for coexistence in general that these and additional security moves by the PA be seen by the Palestinian public to have been reciprocated. But can Israel do so without endangering Israelis?

The most obvious and, from the Palestinian standpoint, effective area where Israel can act is in reducing the number of roadblocks and checkpoints and the damage they do to the fabric of Palestinian economic, social and family life throughout the West Bank. Several former senior IDF officers who dealt with the West Bank have made very specific proposals for doing precisely this, for example by replacing stationary checkpoints with mobile ones. Obviously, if even two or three major roadblocks could be removed--particularly in the Nablus area where this would enable the Palestinian police contingent to expand and operate more freely--this would be very visible and welcome. Besides, the roadblocks represent that aspect of the occupation that, through its corrupting effect on young Israeli soldiers, is most damaging to the fabric and morality of Israeli society.

But the problem represented by the roadblocks is more complex than that. To a large extent the roadblocks, along with some of the roads designated for "Israelis only" due to security considerations, are there to protect the settlers. Remove settlements and outposts in any given sector of the West Bank and Israel's security problems there become far easier to manage without totally disrupting the lives of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians.

This takes us back to the settlements problem. The key to dealing with both settlements and security is to deal with them together. Israel should integrate its treatment of roadmap phase I security with the demands of roadmap phase III final status territorial negotiations by proposing the removal of settlements, outposts and checkpoints, and where needed completing the security fence with its monitored passages, in a specific geographic region of the West Bank, with corresponding Palestinian security efforts to be concentrated there. If the approach works in one area, it can then be applied in an adjacent area.

Such an integrated geographic and security approach might be slow and piecemeal, but for Palestinians it would nevertheless represent progress toward a better life. Accordingly, it would encourage peace and strengthen the moderate government of Abbas and Fayyad--while also serving Israel's own demographic and moral need to remain a Jewish and democratic state


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