IDF soldiers in Hebron.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Some Palestinian shop-owners on the Israeli side of Hebron on Shuhada and A-Sahalah Streets can re-open their stores for the first time since the start of the second intifada in 2000, as part of a series of gestures Israel is making in advance of the Ramadan holiday.
The IDF was short on details as to how many stores and their exact locations, but confirmed that some shops would be re-opening in the area of the city under Israeli military and civil control.
With few exceptions, Palestinians stores have been closed on those streets for security reasons, turning them almost into the equivalent of a ghost town with their locked iron shutters now filled with graffiti.
The step was one of a series of gestures the IDF took to ease life for the Palestinians in advance of Ramadan.
Also, for the first time, Muslim worshipers will be permitted to take shuttle buses from West Bank cities directly to the Al-Aksa mosque at the Temple Mount for prayer.
The coordinator of government activities in the territories Maj.-Gen Yoav Mordechai, said in a video taped messaged to the Palestinians in honor of Ramadan that the IDF was taking steps to improve the economy in the West Bank.
The moves come just before a two-day visit by French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius to Israel and the Palestinian territories by the end of the week.
France wants to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by bringing a resolution to the UN Security Council that defines the parameters of a two-state solution and sets a timeline for an Israeli withdrawal to pre- 1967 lines.
Israel is adamantly opposed to such a measure, preferring to come to a final status agreement with the Palestinians through negotiations. So far, however, Netanyahu’s calls on Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to resume such talks have gone unheeded.
The last round of peace talks fell apart in April 2014.
A government official said the pre-Ramadan gestures show Israel is trying to create positive momentum on the Palestinian track and that tangible change on the ground will come only through measures such as these that are taken by the parties themselves, and not by efforts to force through resolutions at the UN Security Council.
The idea behind these steps is to “create a different atmosphere,” acknowledging that this policy has “political dimensions,” the official said, adding that the moves are unilateral, and that there have not been any reciprocal measures from the Palestinians.
The decision to open the road in Hebron, along with other recent steps is “part of a strategy designed to take tangible steps to benefit the civilian population,” one government official said.
“Anyone who is watching matters carefully will see this is not one step or two steps, but a whole policy,” he said, claiming the steps have been taken to benefit Palestinians living both in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
The gestures involving Hebron and the Al-Aksa Mosque worshipers follow a number of overtures Israel has made to the Palestinians since February including the authorization of a water hook-up for the new Palestinian city of Rawabi and a decision to double water sales to the Gaza Strip to 10 million cu.m. by putting online new pipes and infrastructure that have been ready for operation for the last few years.
In Hebron, Allam Assahd, the head of strategic planing for the municipality on the side of the city that is under PA control, said the opening of the shops “was an important step for merchants and tourists,” but that it was just a first step in the struggle to end the restrictions on the merchants.
The municipality has been engaged in a campaign to open the shops and has asked visiting diplomats to press Israel on the matter.
Noam Arnon, a spokesman for the Hebron Jewish community said he hoped it was a sign that the security situation had improved.
On a personal level he said, he did not object, as long as it was done responsibly. He added that, in fairness, freedom of movement in Hebron should be improved for Jews as well as Arabs, explaining that Jews have access to just three percent of the city.