Defense Min. Sitting on Plan to Lift W. Bank Roadblocks for a Year

Adviser confirms submitting plan that would reduce checkpoints by up to 45% without affecting security of Israelis.

While Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is dragging his feet over his promise to Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas to remove roadblocks in the West Bank - on the ground that the defense establishment is still reviewing the issue - a plan to reduce the number of internal checkpoints by nearly 50 percent has been lying in the Defense Ministry's inbox for almost a year.

The Shin Bet says it will approve the plan, formulated with input from a former Israel Defense Forces command chief, West Bank field officers and several ranks in between, if the IDF decides to adopt it.

American defense officials say the program is in line with Israeli promises to boost Abbas' status.

The program was prepared by a former Defense Ministry adviser on Palestinian Affairs, Haggai Alon.

Army commanders consulted on the plan admitted that one-third of the internal roadblocks in the West Bank are piles of earth whose aim is to unnecessarily impede the passage of Palestinian vehicles.

Last week it was reported that Defense Minister Ehud Barak is considering replacing many of the permanent checkpoints with mobile ones. This measure is part of Alon's plan, together with alternatives such as observation balloons and watchtowers near settlements, as well as other technological means exported by Israel to the U.S. and to China (for use in the Beijing Olympics). These measures have been proven to be considerably cheaper than deploying reserve soldiers at checkpoints and to patrol settlements.

Alon refused on Monday to comment on details of the proposal, but confirmed that several months ago he had presented "to the appropriate individuals" a plan that would reduce the number of checkpoints by up to 45 percent and modify the remainder without affecting the security of Israeli civilians, including settlers in the West Bank.

"We're not making gestures, since freedom of movement and the improvement of the economic activity of the Palestinians are Israeli interests," Alon said.

Brig.-Gen. (res.) Baruch Spiegel, who until eight months ago was responsible for examining the checkpoints and outposts, said he hoped that Barak will adopt the proposal, which he said was drafted with the full cooperation of the army.

He said the plan presented to Israeli and U.S. officials includes the construction of pillboxes that could be manned on short notice and employed as roadblocks.