Cave of the Partiarchs in Hebron
Photo: Gil Yohanan
Interior Minister Eli Yishai, chairman of the Shas party, has made part of the ministerial committee which decides on alleviations given to the Palestinian population in the West Bank at his request.
The committee is headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and includes Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz and Regional Development Minister Silvan Shalom.
Yishai's move was reportedly prompted by his fear that in its current lineup, the committee may be inclined to grant an ease of restrictions he fears may endanger Jewish lives in the West Bank.
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Sunday saw the committee decide to allow the Zion Route – leading from Kiryat Arba to the Cave of Patriarchs in Hebron – to be open to Palestinian travel. The decision was made as part of the government and the defense establishment's effort to ease the daily life of the Palestinian population in the area and bolster moderate Palestinian influences.
"It has come to my attention that the opening of the Zion Route for Arab travel was brought before the political echelon by the defense establishment," said Yishai in a letter to Barak. "Knowing the importance of the route to the Jewish community which frequents the Cave of Patriarchs, I must note my reservations.
"Our main task is the security of the (Jewish) residents of Hebron and those visiting the Cave of Patriarchs, and we must not make light of with their fate. We have already learned that whenever we try to protect Palestinian lives, Jews end up getting hurt," he wrote.
The cave, he stressed, was the second most scared place to the Jewish people, and therefore "any decision which may prevent Jewish masses from visiting the forefathers' tombs should be avoided."
Yishai implored Barak to put the matter to a cabinet vote: "A decision of this nature, which is bound to affect the lives of many Jews, must be made only after the government ministers have a chance to study and prioritize it."
The right decision," he concluded, "can be made prior to the High Court hearing on the matter in July."