The term "apartheid" resurfaced in Israel on Wednesday as critics lashed out at a very short-lived plan to segregate Israelis and Palestinians on public transport in the West Bank. After several hours of fierce criticism from across the political spectrum, Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided to suspend the plan.
Meanwhile on the ground, efforts are being made to calm the situation. Officials in the Judea and Samaria Division and the Civil Administration are currently promoting a series of measures to ease Palestinian movement on the roads of the West Bank, as part of Central Command policy to create a gulf between terrorist organizations and the Palestinian population, and maintain the delicate security situation in the territories.
The Judea and Samaria Division are working to improve access for Palestinian vehicles in a series of locations across the West Bank. For example, a new access road was recently opened for the village of Beitin, near the Beit El settlement, and, an intersection between the town of Tulkarem and the Avnei Hefetz settlement was opened to Palestinian traffic.
At the same time, the IDF is also working to renovate the northern entrance to the town of Bani Na'im near Hebron, which had been closed for security reasons. The army is also accelerating efforts to build a new access road to Kafr Qaddum. The road to the village was closed several years ago after it was deemed too close to the settlement of Kedumim, a move that forced the villagers to make a detour of more than a half hour's drive to get to Nablus. The closure of the road also led to violent Friday demonstrations against the security forces.
"We are making this the focus and we have already been doing so five or six years," a senior officer in the Samaria region told Ynet. "The objective is to build a safe new route with illumination."
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Most Palestinians in the West Bank have full freedom of movement, and most checks are for Palestinians traveling from Judea - Bethlehem and Hebron – northwards via East Jerusalem to the Ramallah area, and vice versa.
Palestinians are currently allowed to travel freely with their vehicles on the main roads used by Jewish travelers, such as Route 60 and Route 35. Additionally, residents of Jenin are not prevented from taking their own cars to nearby Afula if they choose to visit relatives in the town of Dahariya, north of Beersheba.
Palestinian builders working for IDF
These measures come in addition to a series of steps by the IDF Central Command and the Judea and Samaria Division to preserve the security situation, even at an unusual price for the IDF's West Bank bases. It is not out of the ordinary these days to see Palestinian workers from Ramallah renovating the Judea and Samaria Division headquarters. At the same time, the Judea Brigade Commander, Colonel Yariv Ben-Ezra, promotes the issue of expanding the industrial area south of Hebron to the northern part of the nearby town of Yatta.
Along with these steps comes the IDF recommendation to the political echelons to stop freezing of the transfer of Palestinian tax money, a step that is causing a wages crisis in the Palestinian Authority. The recommendation was eventually accepted, along with dozens of cases of the IDF allowing Palestinian police cars to travel on the roads of the West Bank alongside Jewish vehicles.
A senior officer in the Judea and Samaria Division tells Ynet that 700-800 truckloads of goods pass daily through the Tarqumia crossing, and more than 13,000 work permits and 4,000 trade permits have been granted to Hebron residents so that they can earn a living in Israel.
"In a city like Hebron (the biggest Palestinian city in the West Bank – YZ), the economy is booming," says the officer.
However, the officer makes it clear that Hamas is still trying to establish a cell set up and infrastructure in Judea and Samaria.
"We will continuously fight terrorist activity; we will disrupt it and take all measures to prevent a conflagration. There are many measures to ease life for the Palestinians. Every commercial or construction project that you initiate, along with increasing construction in Area C, pushes the Palestinians for the better. Easing life for the Palestinian population produces peace and security in a clear way. We can see that over the years, so does reducing the age of Palestinians working in Israel without a permit, from 60 to 55."