UN: Israel's Removal of W. Bank Roadblocks Falls Short of Promise

OHCA map shows only 44 of 61 razed roadblocks; Americans dissatisfied with lack of change in Israeli policy.

Israel has removed 44 roadblocks in the West Bank, short of the number promised to U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, a United Nations agency has found.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said most of the roadblocks removed were of little or no significance.

OCHA, which charts the location of roadblocks in the West Bank, conducted its own field survey of the 61 obstacles that Israel said it removed earlier this month after Rice's visit.

The agency found that 44 of the 61 obstacles had been removed, six remained and 11 could not be found, according to a preliminary report presented to Western donors.

The Israel Defense Forces announced last week the removal of 50 roadblocks plus one checkpoint, as promised to Rice. It subsequently said an additional 10 barriers were taken down, but the army would not disclose their locations publicly.

Of the 44 obstacles that OCHA confirmed as having been removed, five were classified by the UN agency as "significant" for Palestinians in the area.

OCHA said nine of the 44 were of "minimal significance" to Palestinians, noting there was another roadblock nearby or that the obstacle blocked an unpopulated area used by the IDF.

OCHA said 17 of the 44 roadblocks were of "no significance", either because they obstructed a closed military zone, had already been removed, were located near a settlement or were in the middle of a field.

OCHA cited 13 "questionable circumstances". In those cases, the agency visited the sites where it received repeated reports that obstacles were added at the last minute and then removed.

Rice said during her recent visit that she would push hard to ease West Bank restrictions to try to bolster Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whose authority has been limited to the West Bank since Hamas Islamists seized the Gaza Strip in June.

State recycles promise to remove dozens of roadblocks in W. Bank

More than half of the roadblocks Israel committed to lifting as part of the first stage of measures meant to ease restrictions on Palestinians in the West Bank are temporary obstacles that the state had promised the High Court a month ago to remove.

On March 11, the state promised to lift 27 dirt obstacles that were used to "separate" the northern West Bank from other parts of the territories, following the February terrorist attack in Dimona, and as a check on the potential movement of cars laden with explosives.

These roadblocks did not appear on the OCHA's official map from last December.

Responding to a petition filed by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and the heads of Palestinian villages in the area, the state attorney's office said that the orders concerning the movement of Palestinians (which prevented males aged 16-35 from the area of Jenin to exit the area) had expired, and that temporary extensions were issued on February 12 and 20. This was the state's argument for asking the court to reject the petition against the original restrictions.

The petitioners argued that "in order to enforce the restrictions, the army imposed dozens of new physical impediments on the roads in the area, as well as new roadblocks, some of them permanent and some movable. These obstacles and roadblocks created new 'blockades' around the towns and villages in the northern West Bank. Thus the city of Tul Karm has been completely surrounded and cut off from the nearby villages that depend on it. Even though the siege on Nablus has been in place for seven straight years, it has been tightened further though the application of more roadblocks. This causes unexpected travel restrictions, that change frequently and which are now known to the general population."

Human rights groups have carried out checks on the ground, concluding that a significant number of the roadblocks on a list Defense Minister Ehud Barak gave Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and the Palestinian Authority, are piles of dirt blocking side roads. In many cases, these have already been flattened by locals who bypass them.

In the past, there have been cases in which Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had promised PA President Mahmoud Abbas that the number of roadblocks would be reduced, however data from OCHA, B'tselem and Machsom Watch suggested that the numbers have not decreased - only increased.

In closed sessions held these past few days with Israeli officials, American diplomats assigned to the implementation of the road map expressed their dissatisfaction at the lack of change in Israel's policy restricting the movement of Palestinians.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak's office would not comment, referring Haaretz to the IDF Spokesman.

"According to the decision of the political leadership, the IDF lifted on Tuesday, April 1, 50 dirt obstacles and one roadblock, in an effort to improve the lives of Palestinians. In addition, the Central Command has evaluated the situation along with officials from the Civil Administration, and other measures have been agreed upon, including the lifting of 10 other roadblocks, which were lifted on Thursday, April 3. The IDF will continue assessing the situation and exploring the possibility for improving the lives of the Palestinians, while dealing with the terrorist organizations that are trying to strike in Israel's rear and in the area," the IDF Spokesman said.