Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin has warned that continuing to ease restrictions on the Palestinians while the separation fence remains breached puts Israel
at risk. According to Diskin, the completion of the eastern barrier must be considered before making any decisions on additional gestures.
"The Israeli government must manage risks. The decision to ease restrictions belongs to the political echelon," the Shin Bet chief clarified Sunday during the weekly cabinet meeting.
Diskin made the remarks several days after Defense Minister Ehud Barak
presented US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice with a 35-page booklet
containing gestures to the Palestinians.
One of the ministers told Ynet that an additional ease of restrictions constitutes a real danger and called on the government to stop the gestures. Another minister warned that the Defense Ministry has failed to allocate a suitable budget for the completion of the fence in 2008, adding that the ministry's list of priorities was flawed. A third minister warned of a situation in which the ongoing American and Palestinian pressure would lead to additional gestures until the end of 2008, while the fence is far from being completed.
Minister Barak responded to these remarks during the stormy discussion at the cabinet meeting.
"We have eased a lot of restrictions and have received compliments from Secretary of State Rice, Quartet envoy (Tony) Blair, the British and the Palestinians. We must not help them claim that the negotiations will fail because we have not made enough gestures," Barak said.
He explained that he plans to bolster the moderates, without forgetting the State's top interest – security.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert
and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas
are scheduled to meet Monday for the first time in seven weeks. The meeting will also be attended by the negotiation teams, headed by Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni
and former Palestinian President Ahmed Qureia.
The Palestinians have complained that the Israeli gestures were not enough, demanding that the Israelis take steps to bolster Abbas. The Palestinians consistently object to the construction of the separation fence in the West Bank.
About 490 kilometers (304 miles) of the fence's planned 790 kilometers (491 miles) have been built so far. According to defense establishment figures, should all the budgetary and legal obstacles be removed, the construction of the separation fence could be completed within 20 months, by the end of 2010.
It is still unclear, however, where the missing NIS 6 billion (about $1.65 billion) will come from. The cost of each kilometer of the fence is estimated at about NIS 10 million ($2.76 million), while the construction of each crossing of the 30 planned crossings will cost some NIS 50 million ($13.8 million).
Another delay results from the fact that the "Seam Line" administration is engaged in repairing about 60 kilometers (37.26 miles) of the already constructed fence, after the High Court of Justice ruled that the fence's route must be changed. Another 100 kilometers (62.1 miles) are still subject to legal discussions.
This year, the fence construction will focus on the Jerusalem vicinity area, where some NIS 2 billion ($552 million) will be invested. The main breached segment remains in the Judea Desert area.
An official at the defense minister's office said in response, "The defense minister and the Defense Ministry director-general have been working over the past few months to locate a budget for the fence's completion. The construction works have been continuing as planned for several weeks now."
The official refused to respond to the Shin Bet chief's warning. Sources in the defense establishment have made it clear, however, that the Shin Bet's duty was to warn that an ease of restrictions may lead to terror, but that the defense minister was committed to an overall diplomatic outlook.
In this matter, the sources explained, bolstering the moderates in the Palestinian Authority and easing the residents' daily life must also be taken into account.
In response to the claim that the fence budget was not a top priority, a senior Defense Ministry official clarified that the defense establishment must also deal with other threats, such as the need to implement the Winograd Commission
conclusions and to deal with the southern front in the Gaza vicinity area.
"The fence budget is defined as part of the management of all risks, and we are doing our best to complete the fence as soon as possible," the official said.