WASHINGTON (Jul. 13)
The State Department on Thursday welcomed Israeli Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s announcement that he would seek to reopen Arab elementary and secondary schools in the West Bank.
In a statement Wednesday, Rabin and the Israel Defense Force chief of staff, Gen. Dan Shomron, did not say when the schools would reopen but that it would occur “gradually in the near future.”
They also did not indicate any intention to reopen universities in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Secretary of State James Baker, in a May 22 speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, called on Israel to reopen the schools.
The Israeli announcement was seen by some as a concession to the United States in anticipation of a high-level U.S. team’s visit to Israel next week.
West Bank schools educate an estimated 320,000 students, according to The New York Times.
They have been closed under Israeli government orders during most of the 19-month-old Palestinian uprising.
At the time of the Baker speech, Rabin told reporters outside the State Department that, “once schools are open, the confrontation between kids, schoolboys and girls and the military forces of Israel increase the number of casualties among the youngsters.”
Schools in the Gaza Strip have generally remained open because Gazans, unlike West Bankers, do “not involve the schools” in the violence, Rabin said at the time.
Israel Radio reported that before classes resume, Israeli officials will seek assurances from schools administrators, teachers and students that they will not create disturbances.