Israel offers PA rail link between West Bank and Gaza
The new rail line is meant to enable passage between the two areas after the disengagement.
Israel has offered the Palestinian Authority a rail line linking the Gaza Strip and West Bank that would enable passage between the two areas after the disengagement.
According to the proposal, the tracks would run from the Erez checkpoint in the northern part of the Gaza Strip to the Tarqumiya crossing near the West Bank city of Hebron.
The overture to the Palestinians was made by Minister Haim Ramon, who is overseeing talks on the civil and economic coordination of the disengagement, along with Vice Premier Shimon Peres.
The idea was approved by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon before it was presented to the PA.
The Palestinian coordination team, headed by the Minister for Civil Affairs Mohammad Dahlan, insisted that Israel commit to operating the "safe passage" between the Gaza Strip and West Bank.
The link is important to the Palestinians, in that it reflects that the disengagement is not "Gaza first and Gaza last," and that the affinity between the two parts of the PA will be preserved in the future.
The "safe passage" between the West Bank and Gaza Strip was a part of the Oslo Accords that was never carried out as the Palestinians were promised. Sharon views the Oslo Accords as a national disaster and was against reviving the concept, but he agreed to the rail passage initiative, which does not entail movement of Palestinian cars on Israeli roads.
The train plan is to be discussed Tuesday at a meeting between the Israeli coordination team, the international Quartet's special envoy, James Wolfensohn, and the American security coordinator, Lieutenant General William Ward.
The addition of Ward to the coordination talks reflects the decision of the U.S. administration to deepen its involvement so as to ensure the disengagement's success. The matter will also be the focus of talks with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who will be coming to the region late next week.
Both the civilian and security coordinators will meet with Peres, and afterward with the Israeli coordination teams headed by Ramon.
The main issue up for discussion will be the operation of crossings between the Gaza Strip and Israel after the disengagement, which is considered the "bottle neck" in developing the Palestinian economy because of delays in transporting goods to the ports.
The director general of the Defense Ministry, Amos Yaron, will take part in the meeting to present his ministry's plans for streamlining the crossings.
"The crossings must be improved," a senior Israeli source said Monday. "That will decide the fate of the economic-civilian disengagement. In a situation in which we do not want Palestinian workers in Israel, [the PA] will have to increase industrial and agricultural production in the Strip, and the crossings have to operate quickly. With the current methods, it will be a major disaster."
Another issue that will be raised is the joint "customs envelope" for Israel and the PA. Israel is under tremendous international pressure to preserve the joint customs with the PA, in accordance with the "Paris protocol" attached to the Oslo Accords. But the Israeli position is that when the pullout from the Gaza Strip and Philadelphi route is complete, Israel will not be able to rely on Palestinian customs inspections.
The solution will apparently be to set up Israeli customs stations at the crossings between the Gaza Strip and Israel, and inspect the goods there.