Barak, rethink the roadblocks

If we don't want Hamas in W. Bank, we must allow its economy to thrive.

Barak pshh 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
Barak pshh 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
Ahmed is consumed with hatred for the settlers. He wants to hit them, hard, to shoot up one of their cars. He discusses action plans with his friend, Issa, who says to him, "How can we do it? They travel on roads that are forbidden for us." "You fool," Ahmed replies. "That makes it all the easier for us. We know that all the cars on those roads are Israeli. We know we can't make the mistake of shooting at one of our own cars. What is easier than to lie behind a rock on the side of the road and shoot at one of their cars?" That conversation is, of course, fiction. But it underlines the stupidity of our policy of "Israelis only" roads, which, in turn, has necessitated dozens of roadblocks shutting off the villages on the sides of those roads from exiting on to them. If Ahmed, Issa, or anybody else take it upon themselves to shoot up an Israeli car traveling in the territories, then the "Israeli cars only" policy will not prevent it. That is only one of the conclusions of a group of very senior reservists - former generals, brigadiers and colonels - who have made an in-depth study of our security policy in Judea and Samaria. They are not left-wing "peaceniks." They are concerned about the wisdom of our security policy in the territories. The draconian measures against freedom of movement have hindered all efforts to improve the economic situation and the employment opportunities for Palestinians and have, in turn, exacerbated the feelings of resentment. The policy of roads for "Israelis only" is, in their opinion, bad for security. It enables the terrorists to set up ambushes overlooking those roads, knowing that Israelis drive all the cars moving along them. The group believes that our policy has become hidebound and static, lacking imagination and vision; in short, it has become counterproductive, in that it is generating an increase in hatred and despair to such an extent that, in the long run, it will create much more violence and terror than it is succeeding in curtailing. In the course of the months and years, dozens of roadblocks - many of them mounds of earth or concrete blocks at the entrance of villages - were put in place. Some of them were placed there temporarily as a punitive measure many years ago and were left in place because no one in the defense establishment was willing to take the responsibility of removing a roadblock. Others were installed to prevent the access of Palestinians to roads used by settlers only, and these roads comprise a large part of the road infrastructure in the territories. In the course of the past two years, our prime minister has made repeated commitments, to President Bush, to Secretary of State Rice, to the Knesset and to the Palestinians, that the number of roadblocks would be drastically reduced. This has not happened, not because Ehud Olmert did not mean what he had promised, but because he was unable to impose his will on the Ministry of Defense and the army. There are, today, around 560 roadblocks in the tiny area of Judea and Samaria, which is an incredible number. No roadblocks have been removed; each and every one of them stands in witness to the fact that Israel's promises are not fulfilled and that our solemn declarations and statements are hollow and meaningless. The $7 billion that were promised at the recent Paris conference to jump-start the Palestinian economy are useless, for without a minimal freedom of movement there is no way that the economy of the Palestinians can be put on its feet, and without an improvement of the economy there is no way to prevent a Hamas takeover of Judea and Samaria. If that happens we can say: "We did it. We installed Hamas. That is the direct outcome of our policy." THERE IS, obviously, a continuing security threat emanating from the extremist elements in Palestinian society, and the group of reservists does not take this threat lightly. The former brigade and battalion commanders who spent years in the territories believe, however, that this threat can be tackled more effectively. They believe that a policy of more patrolling, and of temporary, "wildcat" roadblocks placed at unexpected places for a few days at a time would be far more effective than the present massive network of roadblocks, while if the policy of roads for Israelis would only be changed, then nearly all the blockages of villages could be removed. The manned roadblocks should be moved to the vicinity of the "fence" or "wall," whose construction should be completed. The outcome of these changes would be to restore freedom of movement for the Palestinians and, in the officers' view, would create greater security and less resentment. It would, moreover, strengthen Mahmoud Abbas and Fatah and weaken Hamas. It would make an enormous difference to the lives of the Palestinians and give them added reason to support the peace process led by President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayad. It would also remove one of the prime causes for criticism of Israel in the world, for the repeated filming of the hardship of Palestinians at the roadblocks that is shown on television in nearly every country in the world has done more damage to Israel's image than almost any other subject. And, perhaps even more important, it would do a world of good for our own self-esteem, all without lessening our security. The Ministry of Defense announced this week a series of goodwill measures aimed at easing the lives of the Palestinians in Judea and Samaria. Will this be one more empty promise to be added to the list of unfulfilled commitments, or will we really be seeing some constructive changes, perhaps decided upon because of the findings of the group of reservists? The minister of defense, Ehud Barak, who, as leader of the Labor Party should have been the leading protagonist for the peace process in the government, has in fact become the darling of the anti-peace lobby in Israel, seriously challenging Shas's Eli Yishai for the title of prime obstacle in the government to the peace process. His aim is to win the support of the center and right-of-center voters when he squares off against Bibi Netanyahu in High Noon fashion in the next election, and, at the same time, to scuttle any chance of Olmert riding to victory in the wake of successful peace negotiations. To the delight of the anti-peaceniks, Barak has become the spoiler of the peace process. The goodwill measures announced this week and their implementation or non-implementation will, to a large extent, indicate whether he will continue with this policy, or whether he has heeded the pleas of his own party members - as well as the reservist experts on security - to change course. A great deal depends on his decision. Let us hope that he will be able to rise above himself - above egoistic and cynical calculations - and do what is best for our future.