Analysis / No Timetable Set for 'Gaza and Bethlehem First' Plan

A week since the inception of the "Gaza and Bethlehem First" plan, the violence in the Gaza Strip is increasing and the Palestinians are not doing anything to contain it, Israeli military sources say. But the Palestinians also have their complaints.

A week since the inception of the "Gaza and Bethlehem First" plan, the violence in the Gaza Strip is increasing and the Palestinians are not doing anything to contain it," Israeli military sources are saying. According to these sources, Palestinian Authority security forces are demonstrating greater goodwill in Bethlehem, but even there no action has been taken against the terror organizations.

In the past few days there has been a sharp increase in the number of violent incidents in the Strip, including an attempt by Fatah militants to infiltrate into Israel and an attempt carry out an attack on the Kfar Darom settlement.

During the past week, the IDF claims, Palestinian security measures in Gaza have amounted merely to the setting up of several roadblocks along the main road in the Strip and the inspection of vehicles. Beyond that, the sources say, the Palestinian security forces have avoided taking any more action to reduce the violence.

Unlike previous cease-fire agreements, this time Israel and the Palestinians have avoided determining fixed measures and timetables for the implementation of the truce. Israel also did not give any obligation to withdraw from the Gaza Strip, and only committed to ease travel restrictions for Palestinians on the main road, a pledge that went into effect last week.

"The Palestinians are the ones who are supposed to determine how and when they will act against terror," a senior military source said. "If we will be convinced that their actions are serious, we will also be able to ease up on additional restrictions."

IDF officers point out that the Palestinian security apparatus in the Gaza Strip - unlike that in the West Bank - remains largely unharmed, and if it wants to decrease violence the PA has the ability to do so.

By contrast, in Bethlehem the Palestinians are displaying more goodwill, but here the problem is capability. "With all their goodwill, General Haj Ismail and his 20 policemen cannot prevent terrorists from leaving the city," IDF officials say. "Until now calm has been maintained in the city, but the Palestinian readiness has not yet been put to the test."

The Palestinians, for their part, insist that they need time to rebuild their devastated security forces, after the serious blow they sustained in recent months as a result of repeated IDF raids in which buildings and vehicles have been destroyed, personnel arrested, and morale shaken.

Palestinian officials also argue that they can only pressure the Islamic movements to halt terror attacks if they can present their people with tangible improvements in their situation. For this reason, they also expected that the closure in the Bethlehem area - and not just in the bilical city - would be lifted (a closure that disconnects the surrounding villages from the central city), that road number 4 in the Gaza Strip would be open to Palestinian traffic and that the Rafah terminal would be open for longer hours.

The Palestinians believe that the slow progress with regard to the IDF's exit from Areas A, empties the understandings reached between them and Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer of any real content.