Delegation invites Abbas to Knesset

Kadima MKs caught in checkpoint bureaucracy en route to Ramallah.

Israeli lawmakers attempting to visit Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah Thursday got an unexpected taste of life at IDF checkpoints when their convoy was denied entrance into the Palestinian territories. The group of Kadima MKs - which included faction whip Eli Aflalo, Deputy Foreign Minister Majallie Whbee, and MKs Amira Dotan, Ronit Tirosh, and Michael Nudelman - had scheduled their meeting to advance dialogue with the Palestinian leadership, and set up a series of "working group" meetings between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators. They were forced to delay their meeting by over an hour, however, when IDF soldiers refused to let them through the checkpoint, claiming that their paperwork was not in order. "This is a very unexpected, but important lesson for Israeli lawmakers. Now we understand a bit more of the Palestinian frustration with the checkpoints," said Dotan. "I hope to take this lesson back to the Knesset. The next time we have a discussion about checkpoints, I will be better informed and I will raise some of the points I learned here." Dotan, who served as a brigadier-general in the IDF, was the first to begin calling defense officials in an attempt to obtain clearance through the checkpoint. Though Aflalo said that he had filed all the necessary information with the Defense Ministry the day before, it soon emerged that the paperwork had been lost in bureaucracy between the ministry and the IDF. The soldiers at the checkpoint, therefore, insisted that the Knesset members sign what every Israeli civilian intending to enter Palestinian zones signs - an abdication of all citizen rights. "This is ridiculous, don't they realize who we are? We clearly cannot sign away our rights - we are elected members of parliament," said Aflalo. "I don't believe I will the target of any sniper fire!" The document, which stated that the parties in question were entering the area of their own free will, and that the Israeli government was not responsible for anything that might befall them, was eventually signed by all of the MKs, save Aflalo. "They might be willing to sign this piece of rubbish, which clearly is not legally binding for us. I will not break Knesset code, even for this important meeting," said Aflalo, who did not proceed to Ramallah. The rest of the delegation, however, said that they felt the paper was more important than their "ego or the protocol." "Let's be serious, if something were to happen, of course the Israeli government, and every other government, would assist us," said Tirosh. Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, who joined the MKs in the muddy field outside the checkpoint, said that while he did not wish to cause the delegation inconvenience, he could not help thinking that the legislators now understood a bit more about the Palestinian frustration with the checkpoints. "The experience they have had today has been sterile and very polite compared to what Palestinians see in the more than 300 checkpoints that fill the West Bank," Erekat told The Jerusalem Post. "I hope it is an eye-opener that they take back home with them." While the MKs did not discuss checkpoints or any "core issues" with Abbas during their 45-minute meeting, both parties emerged pleased from the meeting. "We will continue to meet in small groups and advance points of dialogue," said Abbas. The MKs also invited Abbas to come to the Knesset. The Palestinian Authority chairman has never visited the parliament, and his advisers said they would consider the invitation. "I believe that the Israeli leadership is truly interested in peace," said Abbas, who added that the was optimistic about the Kadima Party's mandate. Abbas said that he was looking forward to future meetings with Israeli delegations, adding that all parties involved should "hurry and act with decision." Not even "frustrating checkpoints" should get in the way of the peace process, he added. Abbas said Kadima, which means "forward" in Hebrew, used to have negative connotations for him. He had only heard the word in the days of the Hagana. "He told us that 'Kadima' went from being a very negative word to being a word of peace, and of hope," said Whbee.