Ben-Eliezer: 'Gaza, Bethlehem First' Plan Continuing as Planned

Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer said Monday that the "Gaza and Bethlehem First" plan was not frozen and that he is committed to continue working towards the plan's full implementation. Ben-Eliezer also welcomed Palestinian efforts towards a delimitation of the force in the Gaza Strip and noted a clear decrease in the number of terror attacks.

"The process is going on," Ben-Eliezer told Army radio. "I'm very satisfied with what is happening in Bethlehem. I'm also satisfied with the efforts being made in the Gaza Strip."

Ben-Eliezer said in a separate interview with Israel Radio that the Palestinian security forces aren't having much success in enforcing the agreement since the militant groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad have vowed to continue attacks.

On Saturday Ben-Eliezer decided that there would be no further Israeli pullback from the West Bank city of Hebron at least until the end of the Jewish High Holidays, some six weeks from now. Also during a meeting Friday between the head of Central Command, Major General Moshe Kaplinsky, and the head of the Palestinian National Security in the West Bank, General Hajj Ismail, Israel announced that there will be no further IDF withdrawals from the territories.

Palestinian Authority Interior Minister Abdel Razak Yehiyeh declared in television interviews Sunday that Israel's decision to suspend implementation of the Gaza-Bethlehem First proposal does not mean that the plan has failed. Instead, it means "wasted time."

Despite bitterness felt by the PA leadership in response to the Israeli decision, Yehiyeh insisted that the Bethlehem-Gaza plan will be carried out in the end. Yehiyeh, who has tried to persuade extremist Palestinian groups to refrain from terror attacks, added that members of the Palestinian leadership intend to continue to meet with Israeli officials.

Yehiyeh's positive messages Sunday appeared to contradict statements made by Mohammed Dahlan, currently PA Chairman Yasser Arafat's security adviser.

Dahlan, who was one of the negotiators in the talks which led to the Bethlehem-Gaza First proposal, has in recent days accused Israel of reneging on the agreement. Dahlan has said that he doubts Israel seriously intends to bring about a breakthrough via the Bethlehem-Gaza plan.

Though Dahlan and PA officials continue to express doubts, several Palestinian commentators said Sunday that the PA, and Arafat as its head, will in the end have no choice but to abide by terms of the Bethlehem-Gaza plan. Arafat and his PA associates have no other option, the commentators stressed.