Defense Sources Oppose U.S. Benchmark Plan

Wary of the security implications of Palestinians traveling between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, the defense establishment expressed its opposition to this part of the American Benchmarks Plan for Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

In in-house meetings this week, defense officials said that allowing freedom of movement between the two territories may create a dangerous security situation, enabling the transfer of technological know-how for the making of Qassam rockets from the Gaza Strip to the West Bank.

The Americans argue that Israel has already committed to allowing the transit of convoys between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip as part of the November 2005 Agreement on Movement and Access.

Israeli defense officials responded as follows:

"The security situation in the Gaza Strip has deteriorated significantly since the Movement agreement, and the Qassam rocket attacks continue and in some cases have intensified. This fact should not be ignored."

Israel commited to a secure passage between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank as early as the Oslo accords, but has never carried through on its promise.

Political sources in Jerusalem expressed serious criticism of the Benchmarks document. According to the sources, the U.S. "dropped" the document on Israel and did not coordinate its content in advance.

"In our relationship with the Americans, we are accustomed to closer coordination," the sources said.

"They did not consult with us in advance," they complained.

However, Israel has still not formally responded to the American proposal.

Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni is scheduled to travel to Cairo for talks tomorrow, and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is scheduled to travel to Jordan next Tuesday.