The construction freeze in the settlements was intended to convince Palestinians that Israel really intends to end its occupation of the territories. The wealth of experience that has accrued since the Oslo Accord was signed 17 years ago shows that peace is not made at festive ceremonies, and formal agreements alone do not ensure reconciliation. Leaders need the support of their people to generate change.
The Palestinian leadership, headed by President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, has been impressively successful at persuading Palestinians to abandon the armed struggle in favor of an effort to create a flourishing civil society. But after many years of living under occupation and violence, the Palestinians will need quite some time to achieve economic, and especially employment, independence.
Until then, thousands of Palestinian breadwinners from the West Bank will have to continue seeking work in Israel. Today, some 25,000 Palestinians have permits to work in Israel (and about an equal number work in the settlements). Every morning, they get up early to get to building sites and fields throughout Israel.
Over the last few weeks, Haaretz journalist Avi Issacharoff and photographer Daniel Bar-On have documented the disgraceful conditions at the Qalandiyah and Bethlehem checkpoints into Israel. Many Palestinians reach these crossings only after being delayed for security checks at one of dozens of internal checkpoints all over the West Bank.
Defense officials say that only a negligible number of terror attacks have been carried out by Palestinian laborers who entered Israel legally. And Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu talks a great deal about the importance of "economic peace," by which he means that improving the lives of residents of the territories is the best guarantee of peace and security.
Netanyahu should therefore order the defense establishment to allocate the necessary resources, and to provide clear instructions to its people on how to behave, so as to ease passage from the West Bank into Israel and treat our neighbors with respect. A change of attitude toward the Palestinians is an essential condition for peace and reconciliation.
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