Israel cancels PLC members' VIP status

Even PA ministers may lose privileges once Hamas gov't is established.

haniyeh abbas 298 (photo credit: AP)
haniyeh abbas 298
(photo credit: AP)
Israel has canceled the VIP travel privileges of Palestinian Legislative Council members, barring them from enjoying unrestricted travel between the West Bank and Gaza, security officials said Tuesday. The members had their VIP-2 status removed, out of concern that the new Palestinian government will turn the Palestinian Authority into a terrorist organization. While PA ministers continue to enjoy VIP-1 status, once a Hamas led government is established it will only be a matter of time before they will also be stripped of their privileges, the officials said. "Once the new government is formed, the ministers will be identified as being in partnership with Hamas, a terror organization that calls for Israel's destruction, and they will no longer receive the treatment they have enjoyed up until now," a security official said. Parliament members are no longer entitled to the privileges Israel granted them prior to the PLC election, which means that they and members of their their immediate family no longer enjoy unrestricted travel or special treatment at checkpoints. The special status also allowed them to take advantage of the VIP waiting rooms at crossings points. Since the elections, Israeli security officials have received numerous telephone calls from PA officials expressing fear for the future under Hamas and stressing that their allegiance is to PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), and not to the Islamist movement. Security officials described the current situation as one of transition, until the new Palestinian government takes office, and expressed a pessimistic view of the future in the territories. On Sunday the cabinet approved an array of sanctions to be implemented in a gradual manner. There is no doubt that Abbas will be unable to maintain control of the situation, the security officials said. "Abu Mazen was never a man to wage wars, even though he has announced his intentions to retain control over the Foreign and Finance Ministries and the Security forces," an official said. "As far as we are concerned, we have no partner in Hamas," the official said. "At present, we continue to speak with the PA, but once Hamas takes over, such contacts will stop," a security official said. While coordination between the PA and Israeli continues, the meetings have been downgraded to a lower level and Israeli representatives refrain from discussing the long-term, officials said. "No one has a mandate to discuss long-term plans, and therefore none of the issues raised at meetings relate to the future. They are restricted to dealing with immediate issues," an official said. The army informing Palestinian counterparts of a specific operation that requires their assistance, or transferring information regarding a suspected weapons-smuggling tunnel or terror suspects, are both examples of existing security coordination between the sides, officials said. Other meetings relate to health issues such as the recent bird flu scare in Gaza. Due to the recent reports of a bird flu outbreak in Egypt, Israel warned the Palestinians to take the necessary precautions, an official said. "In the event the Palestinians suspect there's an outbreak that spread to Gaza, we will conduct tests in Israel, and if necessary, supply them with vaccinations," the official said. At present, thousands of Palestinian workers from the Gaza Strip continue to enter Israel each day, but once the new Palestinian government is installed this too will stop, officials said. "Israel currently requests lists of names from the PA of workers for whom it seeks permits. However once Hamas takes office, we will no longer be able to contact PA ministries, and therefore the entry of workers could pose a problem and constitute a serious security threat," an official said. Since Monday, there has been a significant decrease in the number of Gazan workers entering Israel. While the current quota is approximately 5,000, on Monday only 2,570 workers entered Israel, and on Tuesday, only 2,408. Security officials rejected claims that the decrease was the direct result of the unstable situation in PA-controlled areas.