Text size

Will James Wolfensohn succeed where others have failed and cause Israel to release its grip on Palestinian freedom of movement?

The Quartet's special envoy on disengagement affairs didn't mince words last week when he expressed his frustration and disappointment with the stalling of the talks on the matter of the crossing points and Palestinian movement.

"While the Palestinians were eager to reach an agreement, the government of Israel preferred to leave difficult questions to committees that will not meet until after the Jewish holidays," Wolfensohn wrote in a letter and periodic report submitted last week to the United Nations secretary-general and the foreign ministers of the Quartet countries.

It can be understood from the letter that Wolfensohn did not expect that the Gaza Strip would become an even more tightly closed detention camp than it had been before the evacuation was completed on September 12.

"We do not have the luxury of adopting such a leisurely approach," wrote Wolfensohn of the Israeli foot-dragging in the talks on the link between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

He left no room for doubt that he would be glad if the Israelis, who had "promised a greater sense of urgency" after the holidays and before the end of October, were to do this before then and not muddle, for example, the proposal put forth by him and the World Bank to maintain, until a permanent solution is found, a continuous and orderly link between the West Bank and Gaza by means of regular convoys of buses.

The letter and the report were spiced with the necessary clarifications of Israel's need for security. "We must also recognize that security remains a major issue for Israel and that costly incidents involving human life will be a difficult impediment to progress," Wolfensohn noted. He did not relate to the Palestinians' need for protection against the Israeli occupation forces, although it is to be hoped that he remembers that not only Jews get killed, but also Palestinian civilians.

But the two texts of the American representative of the Quartet left no room for doubt: The blame for the almost total paralysis of the movement of people and goods (from and to Gaza) was cast on the government of Israel. Wolfensohn, the former president of the World Bank, repeatedly stressed that economic recovery is the basis for security and diplomatic progress (the aim of which, he wrote, is two states), and that economic recovery will not be possible unless the movement of people and goods is ensured: to the Gaza Strip and from it, between Gaza and the West Bank, and within the West Bank.

Similar and blunter formulations can be found in the thousands of letters and reports that have been written since 1994 by most of the envoys and representatives who have come to advance the negotiation process. Thus far, they have not been translated into any forceful international diplomatic action that would compel Israel to put an end to its sophisticated and harsher version of the Pass System from the time of the apartheid regime in South Africa.

During the past year, the disgust of some of the Western countries with the Israeli system of separation within the occupied Palestinian territory has sufficed for them to reject Israel's request to fund the paving and upgrading of a separate system of roads. But they did not change the reality of separate roads, which developed after Israel began building bypass roads on Palestinian lands with the aim of bringing the Jewish settlements closer to it.

The Israeli policy of preventing freedom of movement for all the Palestinians and granting it, as a privilege, to a few began in 1991 (long before the suicide terror attacks). Israel has always known how to present this policy as a security "response." However, this policy combines well with the Israeli plan to dismember the Palestinian territory that international resolutions have intended for a Palestinian state, i.e., the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, on the borders of June 4, 1967. The Israeli plan as it has been implemented since 1994 is effectively to cut off Gaza from the West Bank and allow the Palestinians in the West Bank to live in between the expanding Jewish settlement blocs, in a few enclaves, between which the transportation connection is subject to Israel's mercies.

The delays Israel is causing in the talks, about which Wolfensohn complained, are part of the method that proved its "efficacy" during the Oslo years: We'll stretch the status quo, we'll freeze the situation and the movement, and we'll wreak havoc on their economy until they agree to the political "solution" we are offering them.

The closure policy and the accelerated colonization policy mesh perfectly. The one is not possible without the other. Perhaps Wolfensohn's frustration will advance the talks on the Rafah crossing point, increase the number of trucks that leave Gaza, and remove a number of dirt barriers in the West Bank. However, the logic of Jewish superiority, which is implicit in the very fact of the ever-expanding Jewish settlements, is what has engendered the extreme restrictions on movement against which Wolfensohn warned. True, economic recovery will help the diplomatic process. But a diplomatic process under international auspices that will not force Israel to dismantle all of the settlements will blow up in our faces again and again.