JERUSALEM, Oct. 25 (JTA) — Five years after it was first envisioned by Israeli and Palestinian negotiators, Israel has opened a safe- passage route for Palestinians traveling between the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Monday’s move should bolster Palestinian confidence in the peace process, Israeli officials said.
The route’s opening brought mixed reactions from Palestinians.
On one hand, the opening brought the promise of contact for separated families and friends and represented an important milestone for Palestinian aspirations for an independent state. It will also likely open up potential job opportunities in the West Bank for unemployment-stricken Gazans.
On the other, the rigorous Israeli security checks on either end of the route, along with Israel’s overall monitoring of traffic along the route, sparked feelings among Palestinians that Israeli officials still exert control over their lives.
The route was opened Monday, four weeks after its scheduled Oct. 1 opening under the terms of a land-for-security agreement signed last month in Egypt.
A route was first proposed in the 1994 Cairo Agreement, but its implementation became snagged in repeated disagreements between the two sides.
Israeli officials said Monday they expect that some 1,000 Palestinians per day will use the route, which will link Gaza with a point near the West Bank town of Hebron and be open from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Israel issued 600 magnetic cards enabling Palestinians to travel from Gaza to the West Bank. About 400 cards were issued for the trip in the opposite direction. The permits are good for three months.
Under terms recently agreed to by Israeli and Palestinian negotiators, private Palestinian cars are granted 90 minutes, and buses two hours, to complete the route.
Failure to complete the trip in the allotted time will prompt Israeli authorities to launch a search for the vehicle.
Until now, Palestinians have been unable to travel through Israel between Gaza and the West Bank. Palestinians have also required special permits to enter Israel.
At the Erez Crossing, which separates Israel from the Gaza Strip, Moussa Abu Sa’adeh was the first Palestinian driver to embark on the route.
He told Israel’s Channel Two television he was headed for Ramallah, which he had not visited in five years.
At the nearby Yad Mordechai junction, a small group of Israelis demonstrated against the route, saying it will create security problems for nearby Israeli towns. However, one member of an Israeli regional council told Israel Radio he foresaw opportunities ahead along the route to serve Palestinian travelers.
Israeli and Palestinian negotiators are still hammering out the details of a second route, which will link Gaza with the northern West Bank, near Ramallah.