The army is considering revoking a ban on Jews entering West Bank cities that are under Palestinian Authority control, in view of significant improvement in security and in Israel's coordination with Palestinian security services.
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The Palestinian Authority is interested in having Israelis visit Palestinian-controlled West Bank cities and their environs, designated as Area A, because it could signal the resumption of trade and tourism, which would boost the Palestinian economy.
Israel and the PA are cooperating more closely on security matters now than they have been since the Oslo Accords were signed in 1994, an Israeli defense source familiar with Israeli-Palestinian ties over the past 15 years said last night.
"For the first time, the parties are operating on an equal basis - not as leader and follower, as it had been over the years," the source said. "The main reason is that both sides have a shared enemy. The PA is concerned about Hamas no less than us, and is interested in improving its control on the ground to prevent Hamas from threatening its rule and the calm that has been achieved."
The Israel Defense Forces barred Israelis citizens from Palestinian-controlled West Bank cities in late 2000, following the outbreak of the second intifada and the abduction and murder of several Israelis who entered those areas, whether voluntarily or not. Three years ago, the army began allowing Israeli Arabs to enter Area A.
A month ago, the IDF allowed Israeli tourists and tour guides to take a bus into Bethlehem, the first time the army approved such a trip in a decade, and GOC Central Command Maj. Gen. Avi Mizrahi is now considering allowing Israelis to enter all of Area A.
If such a recommendation is made by the army, it is highly likely that Defense Minister Ehud Barak and IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi will approve the decision.
Mizrahi visited Jericho on Thursday, the first such visit by an officer of his rank since the outbreak of the second intifada in September 2000. Mirzahi and officers under his command, including officers in the Civil Administration, were guests of the heads of the Palestinian security services.
The Israeli guests were given a demonstration of Palestinian security capabilities and observed an exercise in which security officials protected a motorcade of VIPs against an attempted drive-by shooting.
Mizrahi invited his Palestinian hosts to observe a similar exercise at Central Command.
Even before the IDF allowed the Bethlehem visit, Israeli Jews have been entering Area A without authorization, especially as the number of terror attacks declined in recent years. In most cases, though, the Palestinian police have removed Jewish visitors and handed them over to the Israel Defense Forces.