jalama crossing 248 88.
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The Jalama crossing connecting the lower Galilee with the Palestinian city of Jenin was opened to vehicles on Tuesday for the first time in eight years.
The crossing was inaugurated in a ceremony, which included Quartet envoy Tony Blair, government ministers Silvan Shalom, Avishai Braverman and Matan Vilna'i, and Jenin Governor Musa Kadura.
Until Tuesday, the crossing was only open to pedestrian traffic. It is hoped that allowing vehicular traffic will increase the number of visitors and help boost the local Palestinian economy.
"Economic cooperation can bring about dramatic change in the Middle East," said Shalom, deputy prime minister and minister for regional cooperation. "The Palestinians are still wary that the economic dialogue will come at the expense of the political dialogue - and that is a mistake."
Shalom said Israel was interested in continuing negotiations with the Palestinians, but that "it takes two to tango." He added that the progress on the economic front had proved that progress could also be made on the political front.
Shalom called on Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salaam Fayad to return to the negotiating table.
"The opening of the Jalama crossing, like other actions we are promoting, contributes not only to creating trust and understanding, but [is an] important engine of growth," he said. "Opening the crossing to vehicles will enable the movement of dozens of cars and trucks between Israel and the city of Jenin every day. Opening the crossing will promote the Palestinian economy by bringing in Israeli Arabs as consumers to Palestinian cities."
Blair praised the opening of the crossing, saying that it might look like a simple act, but it indicated something larger and more meaningful.
The Quartet envoy echoed Shalom's sentiments that the move would promote the local economy and show that peaceful cooperation could succeed.
He complimented Kadura and Gilboa Regional Council head Danny Atar for their efforts toward normalizing relations. Blair said the men possessed vision and courage and that the regional cooperation would be an example of coexistence and the path of peace.
Minority Affairs Minister Braverman, meanwhile, said of an economic peace that "the role of the prime minister is to serve our grandchildren and work courageously toward peace. The Israeli-Palestinian cooperation in the Gilboa proves that with vision and courage, things can be different."
The Jalama crossing is planned to serve thousands of people who wish to visit Jenin and other Palestinian cities.
"We anticipate 500 cars a day on weekends," said Defense Ministry spokesman Shlomo Dror.
"Opening the crossing saves people long drives, having to go around using alternates routes and crossings. It now takes 10 minutes to get to Jenin, whereas before, it could have taken up to an hour."
The crossing in Jalama is staffed by civilian employees of a private manpower agency. Dror said the Defense Ministry had decided to place civilians at the crossing instead of soldiers to provide better service to people at the border.
"We use modern and non-invasive methods to check the people crossing, and sniffer dogs to check the vehicles. Using biometric technology, the security clearance takes five minutes, so that even on the busiest days, people wont have to wait more than half an hour to cross the border," said Dror.
"The service is similar to what you'd experience at an airport," he added. "After all, we don't want people to get discouraged. We'd like them to move freely."
The Jalama crossing had been sealed since the early days of the second intifada. Its opening is another step in a series of normalization efforts taking place in the region.
Improved security in Jenin and good relations between the local leaders and their staff have enabled several joint projects to take place. The fact that 40% of the population in the Gilboa is Arab and that many are connected to their Palestinian neighbors through links of friendship and kin, has aided in generating a positive atmosphere. Already the two local authorities are working on joint tourism and trade projects, and there are plans in the works to form a commercial zone that spans the border.
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