How many West Bank barriers will Israel forgo?
Sixty roadblocks have been removed in the Palestinian territory, but critics say that isn't enough to improve life in the West Bank.
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"People read in the papers that checkpoints are going to be removed, but in reality, they move around and see the same checkpoints are there. That's why they're skeptical about whether this is for international consumption, or ,in fact, happening," says Mohammad Dejani, professor of political science at Al Quds University in East Jerusalem.Skip to next paragraph
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"If the removal of the checkpoints is real, it's very significant for the peace process and improving the psychology and economy of the Palestinians," he says.
Palestinians view the vast number of roadblocks as proof that Israel wants to punish the entire population for the acts of militants. Israel counters that every security barrier serves a purpose and its removal represents added risk.
"We've taken a calculated risk," says Mark Regev, a spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. "If the Palestinians were more effective in their own counterterrorism, it would change our risk assessment, and we would take down more."
Barrier removal has been concentrated in the northern West Bank. The vast majority taken out have been the dirt mounds that block access roads to main roadways for rural villagers, creating two separate transportation networks for Palestinians and Israelis. Permanent barriers controlling access to large Palestinian cities have not been touched.
Echoing PA criticism, human rights advocates say the impact of the removal so far has been negligible. "It's a sham," says Sarit Michaeli, spokeswoman for the Israeli human rights watchdog B'Tselem, who charges that many of the existing barriers have little security value.
"Placing such an extensive network of physical obstacles over such an extended period of time … is not the correct balance between the needs of the occupying power and the needs of the occupied population," she says.
US Gen. William Fraser is scheduled to monitor implementation of the roadblock removal and report back to Secretary Rice. "The removal of the 50 or 60 roadblocks is not the end all and be all, it's a means to an end," says US Embassy spokesman Stuart Tuttle.
A drive to the Palestinian village of Sara shows the mixed results of the removals. Soldiers who once stopped Palestinian cars at a junction outside the village are gone. But the main entrance to the village is clogged by a dirt mound.
Ibrahim Harsa says that while his truck deliveries to the nearby city have been shortened, relatives who live nearby still must still go hours out of their way to travel in the West Bank. And what if Israel carries out a more substantial lifting of the barriers? "I would feel like a king. I want my freedom more than I want a state."