|Jennifer Loewenstein Archive
Read the second half of this article in particular. It would make even Kafka go cross-eyed. -J
Citing security reasons, Israel says won't honor bus convoy deal
By Akiva Eldar, Haaretz Correspondent, and Haaretz Service, 9 Dec. 2005
Israel told international representatives Friday that it has no intention of implementing the agreement allowing bus convoys between Gaza and the West Bank until "better times" from a security standpoint.
During a Friday afternoon briefing before representatives of the international community in Tel Aviv, Brigadier-General Eitan Dangot, who is IDF liaison to Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, and Major General Yossi Mishlav, the coordinator of government activities in the territories, added that there is no chance that the convoys can begin operating on the agreed-upon date (December 15) due to the fact that Israel needs at least one week to make the necessary preparations.
At this stage, Israel has no intention of renewing talks with the Palestinian Authority on the matter.
C. David Welch, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, told international representatives that the Americans are determined to see the convoys run by December 15, as called for in the agreement.
Senior Palestinian officials say they received similar indications from the U.S. Consul General in Jerusalem, Jacob Walles. Diplomatic sources fear that freezing the convoy deal could torpedo next week's London conference on the rehabilitation of Gaza in the wake of Israel's withdrawal and thus nullify the benefits Jerusalem had gained as a result of the disengagement plan.
Mishlav and Dangot also argued that the Palestinians are not abiding by the terms of the Rafah crossing agreement, warning that Israel will significantly intensify security checks at the Erez and Karni crossings unless the Palestinians begin honoring their obligations by Sunday.
At a meeting held by Quartet representatives in Jerusalem on Friday morning, American officials made clear that the Palestinians are upholding their end of the Rafah deal, and that the disagreements stem from technological matters that the Israelis raised as part of new demands.
Western diplomats said on Wednesday that participants at the conference are likely to criticize Israel for failing to implement the convoy agreement.
The Quartet's Mideast envoy, James Wolfensohn, who spent a long time mediating the deal, has said that Israel cannot be allowed to close the Gaza border crossings in reaction to terror attacks unconnected to the Gaza Strip.
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Ereket was set to ask the United States on Friday to pressure Israel to renew negotiations on the convoys between, Israel Radio reported Friday.
Erekat was slated to meet Friday with Welch, who arrived in Israel a day ealier to discuss issues including the West Bank-Gaza Strip bus convoys, the Karni crossing and the Gaza airport.
Israel's security-political cabinet decided earlier this week to suspend talks with the PA on operating the bus convoys, despite an agreement made last month in talks brokered by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
According to the agreement, the bus convoys were slated to start operating next Thursday, and truck convoys were to begin in mid-January. The Prime Minister's Office said it notified the U.S. of its decision to suspend talks on Tuesday - shortly after the senior ministers approved the move, which had been recommended by security officials in the wake of Monday's terror attack in Netanya.
In the cabinet decision, the ministers said convoy talks would be renewed only after the PA fulfilled its obligation to act against terrorists.
A security official on Wednesday linked the suspension of the convoy talks to a disagreement over the supervision of the Rafah crossing on the Gaza-Egypt border. Israel says the Palestinians are not allowing the border to be monitored effectively, which enables hostile elements to enter Gaza. Officials said that as long as Israel is unable to monitor entry into the Gaza Strip, it cannot allow Palestinians to go through Israel to get from Gaza to the West Bank.
Security officials confirmed Wednesday that the coordinator of government activities in the territories, Mishlav, had been ordered to cancel meetings scheduled with Palestinian officials in an effort to resolve the controversial issues related to the convoys. Negotiations held in the last few weeks between the Israeli team, headed by Mishlav, and the Palestinian team, headed by PA Civil Affairs Minister Mohammed Dahlan, have revealed gaps between the two sides on a number of issues.
For instance, the Palestinians want all those who have PA identity cards to be allowed to cross between Gaza and the West Bank, but Israel wants only Gaza residents to be allowed to enter the West Bank, and says they should be allowed to stay there no more than 10 days. In addition, the Palestinians oppose the Israeli demand that Palestinian men between 16 and 35 not be allowed to cross from one area to another.
The American working paper presented to both sides proposes that the West Bank and Gaza be connected via five convoys per day, each of which would consist of five buses that would transport a total of 1,800 passengers a day. Israel proposes setting the limit at one five-bus convoy a day, transporting no more than 250 passengers a day between the Erez crossing on the Gaza-Israel border and the Tarkomia checkpoint near the West Bank city of Hebron.
The United States recommends that the buses go from the Gaza Strip to stops in the central and northern West Bank, since the checkpoints make it difficult to get from the Hebron area to the rest of the West Bank.