Israel Policy Forum (Interview)
August 26, 2008 - 8:00pm

The current system of checkpoints and roadblocks in the West Bank (checkpoints are manned structures while roadblocks are unmanned) was instituted in response to the suicide bombings that began in the late 1990s. The idea behind the policy was to stop terrorists from reaching Israel by having a presence throughout the West Bank in Nablus, Jenin, and Ramallah. As a result, Palestinians must not only cross through checkpoints and go through security checks when leaving the West Bank but also when traveling through it.

This checkpoint system has caused a dramatic decline in the Palestinian economy, which is 100 percent dependent on Israel to import and export goods. This has damaged the well being of Palestinians and become a major strategic issue that must be dealt with.

One way to change the situation may be through the completion of what Israel has termed the security fence. As a result of the suicide attacks that began in the late 1990s, Israel decided to construct a barrier between it and most of the West Bank. Until the fence is completed, and a two state-solution is implemented, the checkpoint system is likely to continue. It has so far been difficult to change that system because it has shown significant results, fewer suicide bombings and fewer terrorist attacks.

However, the current formula can be changed, and has been changed positively, if incrementally, in the last six months. Some major checkpoints have been opened and roadblocks have been removed to enable the Palestinians to move freely and, therefore, revive their economy.

A major part of achieving this change has been due to the work of U.S. General Keith Dayton, who has worked to build the Palestinian Security Service in the model that was begun in Jenin, a major city in the northern West Bank, whose security situation has been in the hands of Israel’s Defense Forces (IDF) for the last eight years.

The Jenin model is a new system in which Palestinian security—police officers—were trained in Jordan under General Dayton’s command and then deployed to Jenin in order to take responsibility for its law and order. The improvement in Jenin’s security situation—armed gangs and war lords have been replaced by an organized police force that respects one chain of command—can now be followed with an improvement in Jenin’s infrastructure, economy, and freedom of movement. USAID is involved in construction and public works projects, Israeli-Palestinian security coordination has improved, and the Shevei Shomron checkpoint, which lies near Jenin at the main cross-country access route, has been opened.

With Shevei Shomron open, Palestinian police are able to take more responsibility, and Palestinians can begin to see change on the ground. After eight years of being blocked in, they are starting to revive their quality of life.

This gain could be reversed. The Shevei Shomron checkpoint has not been dismantled but rather opened so that traffic can move through without stopping, while Israeli soldiers are present at the side of the road. If the IDF is looking for a suspect or has a security alert, it can reinstate the checkpoint and reopen it later. This checks and balances mechanism can allow for a very important change from a normally closed to a normally open system.

Now that the Jenin model is in place, the idea is to expand it to other places in the coming months. Implementing this new system in other cities may prove to be more complicated. Jenin no longer has a significant number of Israeli settlers nearby; many settlers were removed at the time of Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. Furthermore, the security fence around the area of Jenin is completed and functioning effectively.

However, these conditions are a part of the model that could be developed in other places. The completion of the security fence will enable movement and access to be controlled in a much simpler way. Once there is a real and effective border, many roadblocks will no longer be necessary. They will be replaced by a system of border-crossings for cargo and passengers, like the ones between the United States and Mexico, that will enable greater economic and human interaction between Israel and the West Bank, as well as improved coordination between Israeli and Palestinian security officials.

Then, of course, there is the question of settlements. If the settlements to the east of the fence remain in place until there is a final agreement, then roadblocks may not be completely removed. In the meantime, however, changing the status quo on the ground can improve the daily lives of the Palestinian people, motivate decision-makers to continue negotiating, and work to convince Israelis and Palestinians that this system can really work.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017