The modernization of checkpoints between Israel and the Palestinian Territories is now being ironically cast as a “humanitarian” project to be undertaken by the either the Israelis or the Palestinians as a way of improving the Palestinian quality of life and ease of communication. Needless to say, the American taxpayer is being asked to underwrite the cost.
The new “humanitarian” approach to the checkpoints can be seen in the newest AIPAC action alert (February 8), in which Gen. Baruch Spiegel - identified in the Jerusalem Post as the “head of the Security Fence Team, a group appointed by Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz to administer Palestinian humanitarian needs regarding the security fence” - outlined how Israel is “working to ease the lives of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.” It is building “state of the art” checkpoint crossings,
“for Palestinians traveling from Gaza to Israel, modernizing five similar terminals between Israel and the West Bank and substantially reducing the number of security checkpoints and roadblocks in Palestinian areas. Israel is also building a Jerusalem bypass road that will enable Palestinians to travel between the northern and southern parts of the West Bank without moving through security checkpoints.”
And in a press release from the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs on January 27, the role of the team is clarified:
“The establishment of this team is part of the Minister’s overall policy of separating the general Palestinian population from the terror operatives in their midst. In the framework of this policy, the Minister held a meeting with heads of international organizations two weeks ago to address issues in the territories. At this meeting, a cooperative structure between the Ministry of Defense and the international organizations was agreed upon - with the objective of assisting the Palestinian population as much as possible.”
Then, in news reports regarding Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s trip to Israel-Palestine this week and of President Bush’s offer of $350 million in aid to the Palestine Authority last week it became clear that some of the money to fund the “state of the art” checkpoint crossings will be included in the aid package to Palestine.
The figure of $50 million is mentioned in a JTA report and in an Haaretz article both dated February 4; but as Glenn Kessler pointed out in an article in the Washington Post on February 6,
“The Israeli government [too] has sought financial assistance from the United States for building the transit terminals. A White House official said $50 million of the $350 million that Bush announced in his State of the Union address to ‘support Palestinian political, economic, and security reforms’ could be given to Israel for the terminals because faster passage through Israeli checkpoints is presumed to be a help to the Palestinian economy.”
Last week, in a time of confusing reports, CNI protested what it thought was an Israeli request of $180 million in aid to cover the cost of these “terminals.” This was premature, as the Israelis had not made such a request. In its press release of February 4 CNI incorrectly allied itself with the details of the position of Americans for Peace Now, although both were agreed that the funding, however it is sourced, should not cover checkpoints in Palestinian territory outside the Green Line.
So, is funding for the checkpoint crossings to come out of the Palestinian or the Israeli aid pot? The question may be further confused by the $40 million grant for “short-term, high impact items” that Dr. Rice announced in Ramallah. She explained that,
“it will be provided over the next 90 days in a quick action program to make an immediate positive impact on the lives of the Palestinian people, through, for example, job creation, private sector development and infrastructure development” (Press release State Department 2/7/05).
Where did these funds come from, people in Washington have wondered? This week it emerged they were cobbled together from already funded projects in Gaza and the West Bank (desalination works, for example) that had never been spent. They will be administered through USAID (and not go through the Palestinian Authority, which still may not legally receive US funding), and will be used in part for constructing new roads through the territories - along Gen. Speigel’s lines? And thus Peter is robbed to pay Paul.
The Council for the National Interest is a non-profit, non-partisan grassroots organization advocating a new direction for U.S. Middle East policy. As CNI Founding Chairman Paul Findley notes, CNI is “motivated by the national interest of our country in Middle East policy… CNI provides a way for all citizens, regardless of religious affiliation or national origin, to speak out in an effective way. Those who participate can help advance the national interest in the Middle East and at the same time help repair the damage being done to our political institutions by the over-zealous tactics of Israel’s lobby.