A document recently published by the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs entitled “Israeli Assistance Steps and Humanitarian Measures Towards the Palestinians,” reveals that the $50 million their congressional agents in Washington scrounged from the $200 million Palestinian aid package will go for the construction of high-tech processing terminals that will be located on the “separation lines” between Israel and Palestine.
In other words, the money will be spent along the path of the Separation Wall that the Israelis have unilaterally constructed in the last two years and that lie within Palestinian territory.
This improvised border between Israel and Palestine is not recognized by any legal authority. So it is especially ironic that the aid designated for Palestinians and to bolster the fortunes of Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian leader, is being applied to modernizing terminals that have painfully, and in some cases tragically, disrupted their lives since the beginning of the Second Intifada in 2000.
The fact that US aid given to Israel is not allowed to be spent outside Israel - i.e. in the West Bank or Gaza - is probably the motivation why the $50 million for the terminals was carved out of Palestinian aid allotment. The “separation lines” often lie deep within Palestinian territory.
The key wording is found on the document’s fourth page, in the paragraph describing how the Israelis are introducing a novel concept of “minimalizing friction” to ease the tension between the Palestinian population and Israeli security forces. It says:
Accordingly, Israeli security forces will transfer the bulk of their monitoring and control efforts from checkpoints inside the West Bank and the Gaza Strip to crossing points along the revised route of the security fence.
The “new system” is their word for “new terminals,” to be run by civilians operators (as opposed to military personnel), who will employ “smart cards” (i.e. biometric hand screens) in place of physical security checks.
The two new terminals for Gaza will be placed at Erez (for people) and Karni (al-Mintar) (for goods). For the West Bank, the terminals will all be located beyond the Green Line, on the Wall line at: Bitunia, Jalameh, Kalandia, Qalqilya, Ma’ale Efrayim, Tarqumia, and near Bethlehem. This may be the first time that the location of the terminals has been revealed.
Elsewhere, the document summarizes specific efforts that Israel has made since February to improve relations with the Palestinians - border crossings reopened, hours of operation extended, increases in the number of workers allowed into Israel, easing of restrictions on Palestinian Christians visiting the holy sites in Jerusalem, and a “sharp reduction in the number of roadblocks and barriers within the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.”
But the numbers are pathetically small. Only 2,000 additional workers (the West Bank’s population is 1.5 million) and 4,500 Gazas (total population: 1.3 million) are being allowed permits to work in Israel.
Regarding roadblocks, in the three months since Sharm el-Sheikh, only three barriers and two roadblocks have been removed. There are some 102 military checkpoints in the West Bank and 21 in Gaza; the barriers number in the hundreds.
Of the many towns and cities in the West Bank to be transferred to the Palestinian authorities, only two thus far have seen a removal of Israeli troops: Jericho and Tulkarm.
The terminals will cost between 120 and 170 million shekels ($27-$38 million each). In the earlier statements about the construction of the terminals, the figure of $450 million was mentioned in an article in Haaretz, of which the U.S. was expected to contribute $180 million (or 40 percent).
Now the total cost is closer to $250 million. Of this amount, the U.S. has now contributed $50 million, and if the percentage remains the same, we can expect an Israeli request for another $50 million grant, for a total of $100 million. Despite its high per capita income, Israel asked the World Bank to help fund the terminals, but that request has not been answered. No doubt further requests for additional financial assistance will come from the Israelis as part of the “Disengagement” from Gaza.
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