Don't politicize West Bank checkpoints

Withdrawing Israeli security precautions in absence of effective PA control is recipe for bloodshed.

idf checkpoint 224 88 (photo credit: AP)
idf checkpoint 224 88
(photo credit: AP)
On Monday, Defense Minister Ehud Barak ordered the removal of numerous roadblocks throughout Judea and Samaria. One of the first to go was the Rimonim barricade on Highway 60, a major north-south thoroughfare linking Jericho to Ramallah. Some two weeks earlier, Barak appeared before the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee defending Judea and Samaria roadblocks as essential impediments to terror. "Each removal of any roadblock is tantamount to gambling with Israelis' lives," he said. "No roadblock was positioned where it was without a very cogent reason. No roadblock is without clear security value. Each roadblock is there only because it's necessitated by indisputable security contingencies." Nothing changed between Barak's committee appearance and the visit of US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice earlier this week. In response to intense American pressure - and lobbying from within his own Labor Party - Barak presented Rice with a 35-page list of "confidence-building measures," including the dismantling of roadblocks and checkpoints even in areas directly adjoining the Dan and Sharon regions, where most of Israel's population is concentrated. A short while after the Rimonim roadblock was cleared a stabbing attempt took place near Shiloh, which is about 30 minutes north of Jerusalem and a few minutes' drive from Rimonim. This time the attacker was shot by one of his would-be victims. But our citizens cannot always count on good fortune. The feeling among many Israelis living over the Green Line, and in the IDF, is that the downed roadblocks have triggered a time-bomb. The only question remaining is whose lives will be lost as a result. THIS ISN'T the first time roadblocks have come down. Indeed, this has become a ritual "good-will gesture" to bolster Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas's standing vis-a-vis his Hamas rivals. Five years ago, the same Rimonim barrier was removed. Two weeks later mother-of-seven Esther Ge'alia, of the adjacent Kochav Hashahar settlement, was slain there. Soon afterwards young Shuli Harmelech was murdered nearby. Ultimately the barricade had to go back up. Odds are the latest experiment won't end any differently. When the roadblocks do go back up, there's bound to be an outcry, with Israel taking flak for "hampering movement and access" in the West Bank. It's true that there are hundreds of checkpoints, roadblocks and barriers in the West Bank - and, yes, some have been set up since Annapolis. But wholesale, politically-inspired removal of such barriers doesn't only risk Israeli lives. It is also acutely counterproductive to the rationale for doing away with them in the first place - promoting negotiations and bolstering Abbas. If anything sabotages the prospects for Israeli-Palestinian accommodation, it's attacks on Israeli civilians, wherever they may be. Thus moves - no matter how well-intentioned and theoretically desirable - whose unintended consequences facilitate terrorism are likely to torpedo whatever peace prospects still conceivably remain. No Israeli discerns any benefit in deliberately imposing hardship on ordinary Palestinians. We know that most simply want to get to work or school, seek medical treatment or visit with family. If Palestinians have anyone to blame for the undeniable inconvenience caused by roadblocks, it's the terrorist organizations, whose popularity seems to skyrocket - among ordinary Palestinians - the more Jewish lives they take. It's also significant that factions affiliated with Abbas's own Fatah movement have claimed responsibility for the Shiloh attack. This Fatah connection does not instill confidence about what will happen to the equipment and armored vehicles Israel has earmarked, under US pressure, for pro-Abbas forces. If there are checkpoints without further security value, let them be taken down - but Israelis need reassurance that someone has given lots of thought to each and every instance. To protect its citizens against the killing sprees that obstacle-free roads expedite, Israel will eventually find itself having to reconstruct many of the roadblocks dismantled because of political pressure - and doubtless face censure for it. Israel has every interest in bolstering a Palestinian leadership committed to peaceful coexistence and capable of imposing effective security control on those of its own people who oppose this. Withdrawing Israeli security precautions in the absence of such effective control may be well-intentioned, but unfortunately is a recipe for bloodshed.