'10 key checkpoints can be removed'

Ex-generals, PA officials: Move could give boost to Palestinian economy without compromising security.

checkpoint 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
checkpoint 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Israel should remove 10 major West Bank checkpoints to give a badly needed boost to the Palestinian economy and can do so without compromising security, a group of Israeli ex-generals and Palestinian officials said in a joint report Wednesday. The 10 checkpoints cause major disruptions to Palestinian trade and movement, said the report, whose authors include two former chiefs of the West Bank Civil Administration. The findings came just days after the World Bank warned that the Palestinian economy is not likely to grow this year, largely due to continued IDF restrictions on movement, and despite massive foreign aid. Representatives of donor countries meet in London later this week to review the aid effort $7.7 billion pledged over three years. The bank warned that more aid may be needed if the Palestinian economy doesn't recover from several years of downturn. A recovery depends on an easing of restrictions, the bank said. The government says it's willing, in principle, to ease restrictions, but that Palestinian terror groups still pose a threat. A hasty removal of checkpoints could lead to more attacks which would then harm peace efforts, the government argues. However, Wednesday's study said Israel could ease up without compromising security. "While there was once a serious security need for checkpoints and roadblocks, this need is diminishing with time," the study said. "The checkpoints and roadblocks policy, however, has not changed accordingly, despite the fact that it has an extremely negative impact on Palestinian economy and society." A removal of checkpoints is in Israel's long-term interest because it would help defuse Palestinian resentment and improve the standard of living in the Palestinian territories, said one of the authors, reserve Brig. Gen. Ilan Paz, who headed the West Bank's Civil Administration from 2002-2005. "If Israel wants the Palestinian economy to improve ... we have to change the reality in the West Bank," said Paz. "We want to create a light at the end of the tunnel for the Palestinians, so they won't search for revenge or hatred against the Israelis." The six-member group, which also included three senior Palestinian government officials, said the majority of West Bank roadblocks should be removed, arguing they've become unnecessary with the construction of the separation barrier in the West Bank. The barrier, expected to stretch about 800 kilometers is two-thirds complete. However, the report noted that a blanket removal "is currently unrealistic owing to the strength of opposition made by the Israeli security forces and the Jewish settlers centering around security considerations," the report said. Instead, the group focused on 10 checkpoints that Palestinian officials said are particularly harmful to Palestinian trade. The list included three checkpoints around Nablus, the West Bank's second largest city and a former militant stronghold. In recent months, the Palestinian government tried to assert control in Nablus, deploying security forces and trying to get gunmen off the streets. Israel has portrayed the deployment as a good start, but said the Palestinian Authority needs to do more. In the meantime, IDF troops carry out almost nightly arrest raids in the city, saying it's too early to rely on Palestinian forces. The study said even the Nablus checkpoints can be removed, provided Israeli and Palestinian forces step up coordination and Palestinian forces heighten their activity in the city. Government spokesman Mark Regev reiterated that Israel is taking some risks, but does not want to be hasty. "We have an obligation to protect our people from a very real terrorist threat that exists in the West Bank," he said.