Safe-passage route for Palestinians is on hold over issues of sovereignty
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Safe-passage route for Palestinians is on hold over issues of sovereignty

JERUSALEM, Oct. 4 (JTA) – Implementation of a portion of the Israeli-Palestinian accords has been held up by security concerns. Sunday’s scheduled opening of a safe-passage route for Palestinians traveling between the West Bank and Gaza Strip was delayed after the two sides were unable to agree on procedures for the route. Israeli and Palestinian officials met Monday in a bid to overcome their differences on two issues – Israel’s demand to assert its sovereignty over the route and its right to detain Palestinians suspected of hostile activities; and a dispute over who would have overall authority for issuing the magnetic cards to Palestinians that would serve as permits to use the route. Public Security Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami, who along with Palestinian Authority official Saeb Erekat, joined the discussions in a bid to resolve the differences, said Monday that the matter of Israeli sovereignty had been resolved. Meanwhile, Israel Radio quoted a Palestinian source as saying it looked like the permit problem could be soon resolved, clearing the way for the route’s opening. Israel has sought authority for issuing the cards out of concern that without any Israeli supervision, an industry of counterfeit permits could crop up. The Palestinians objected to the Israeli involvement, claiming Israeli security forces could try to use the contact with permit seekers to elicit intelligence information. Reports said the sides were considering proposals involving shared responsibility for the permits. According to Israeli-Palestinian agreements, Palestinians using the route – which runs from Gaza to a town near Hebron – would be given a two-hour time frame to make the trip. Palestinians would be barred from stopping or leaving the route at any point in between. Israeli checkpoints at either end would conduct security checks. Israel and the Palestinians have yet to finalize the route of a second safe-passage route between Gaza and Ramallah. The two routes were called for in successive Israeli-Palestinian accords dating back to the Interim Agreement of September 1995. On Sunday, before the announcement that the first route’s opening would be delayed, several hundred right-wing Israeli demonstrators assembled at a site along the route to protest what they said would become a thoroughfare for Palestinian terrorist attacks in the center of Israel. In addition to the security issue, the opening of the safe- passage route drew opposition from Israelis concerned about its impact on road safety. The High Court of Justice this week rejected a petition from a Jewish settler in the West Bank who was seriously hurt and whose wife was killed in a traffic accident earlier this year with a Palestinian driver. The petitioner maintained that Palestinian authorities do not maintain the same level of adherence to insurance requirements and that Palestinian drivers should not be allowed to use the route until insurance standards are brought up to par with those in effect in Israel.