Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

19 Adar 5761 - March 14, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Israel Tries Carrot and Stick
by Yated Ne'eman Staff

On Monday, Israel imposed a complete blockade of Ramallah, a city just north of Yerushalayim with a population of 60,000 that is the commercial capital of the Palestinian Authority areas in Shomron and Yehuda. Blocking all roads with trenches, mounds of earth and checkpoints backed by tanks and armored troop carriers, the IDF cut off Ramallah completely from the outside world, including the villages that surround it.

Ramallah benefited the most from the peace process in terms of development, new construction, an inflow of investments, and Palestinian Authority offices. To put pressure on Ramallah is to strike most directly at the interests of the PA elite.

The blockade triggered many conflicting reactions. Palestinian officials condemned the action as an escalation of Israeli tactics against the Palestinian uprising. The measure set off violent protests at one roadblock, where a Palestinian was killed by Israeli troops. Additionally, Palestinian activists have designated Wednesday and Friday as "days of rage," to be marked by confrontations with Israeli troops.

While both Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer deflected criticism of the decision to tighten the blockade around Ramallah, the United States does not feel this move was a wise one. Like the proverbial carrot dangled in front of an indolent horse while its owner beats it from behind, the United States believes Israel has taken steps that "both ease and make more difficult the plight of the Palestinians, and steps that don't necessarily always respond to security needs," said State Department spokesman Richard Boucher.

Sharon told the Likud faction that the measure was taken specifically to prevent terrorists from the Ramallah area from carrying out a suspected attack in Jerusalem, saying that the IDF had captured a number of terrorists, but it was clear that there were still other terrorists from the same cell in the field.

Sharon said that the decision to tighten the blockade around Ramallah was made by the brigade commander in the area to "prevent the escape of these people, or the possibility of carrying out this attack."

Sharon laid the blame for the Palestinian people's harsh living conditions on the PA, attributing the nation's plight to their officials' lack of cooperation and laxity in fulfilling promises to limit terrorism.

Three members of a terror cell who had planned a car bomb attack inside Israel were captured, but other cell members remain at large. Israeli security officials said the Palestinian Authority had ignored requests to arrest the terrorists, despite receiving information regarding their identities.

A security official said the three terrorists arrested by Israel on Saturday are affiliated with the Fatah Tanzim and that among the captives and those still on the loose are a number of Palestinian Policemen.

"We estimate that seven others remain at large in the Ramallah area," the official said, hence the need for harsh restrictions on Ramallah. The army is not hampering the movement of Palestinian ambulances or humanitarian assistance and allows food to enter otherwise closed areas.

Sources close to the prime minister said that the attempt to present the Ramallah blockade as part of a new policy in effect throughout the territories was merely a "Palestinian spin" on the story.

This position was supported by Defense Minister Binyamin Ben- Eliezer, who told the cabinet in its first meeting on Monday that "blockades were not born yesterday," a reference to the fact that former prime minister Ehud Barak had also employed the measure.

Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, speaking at the Labor faction meeting, also hinted that Barak was the initiator of this policy when he placed an internal blockade on Ramallah, and noted that Sharon is just continuing the previous blockade.

Sharon asserted today that his security policy was directed "against those who attack and those behind them" while "easing things as much as possible for most of the population."

In that vein, Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer announced that he had ordered the lifting of less stringent blockades imposed by the previous Israeli government on four other West Bank cities: Bethlehem, Hebron, Tulkarm and Qalqilya.

Meanwhile, OC Intelligence Maj.-Gen Amos Malka briefed the cabinet on Monday, and reportedly said that the decrease in violence over the last few days is "tactical," with the Palestinians interested in negotiating with Israel, but not really in stopping the violence.

Malka also said that the Palestinians do not see interim agreements -- which Sharon is interested in reaching -- as in their interest; that they failed to translate their violence into a diplomatic achievement; and that the United States is unlikely to push for a permanent agreement in the next few months.

West Bank Preventive Security Service chief Jibril Rajoub denied Israeli claims that the closure imposed on Ramallah is a security measure that could prevent terror attacks, and warned that the measure will instead lead to an escalation of violence. He also claimed that the car bombing was a story fabricated to justify the suffering of the Palestinians.

Fatah leaders also warned that the closure will fuel the "Aksa intifadah," while Palestinian sources said the uprising is becoming more popular. The Intifadah leadership has called upon Palestinians to storm the blockades.

Palestinian security sources said the best way to prevent terror is to renew security cooperation. The PA has linked a resumption of security cooperation with a renewal of the political process.

The United States said on Monday that Israeli blockades of Palestinian cities are ineffective at thwarting terror attacks, and criticized other measures taken by Israel ostensibly to ensure the security of its citizens.

Secretary of State Colin Powell discussed the ongoing violence and deepening Palestinian economic hardship in phone calls to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, and former prime minister Ehud Barak.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said restrictions on movement, economic pressure, and blockades do not necessarily help reduce the risk of attacks.

While the United States continued to call on Israel to ease economic restrictions and take measures to prop up the Palestinian Authority, including handing over millions of dollars in collected tax revenue, Boucher said that those gestures must be preceded by a reduction in Palestinian violence -- the position taken by Israel.

He said that since January the United States had redirected $57 million in program funding to address emergency needs in the territories.

Meanwhile, Israeli security forces continue to maintain an increased presence throughout the country, focusing on bus stations, malls, and markets in large cities.

Observers said that the nervous protests by Palestinians against the latest blockade and the increasing voices on the Palestinian side saying that the intifadah has achieved nothing, are signs that the pressure is having an effect.


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