Security officials may be barrier to Netanyahu's 'economic peace'
Whether his economic peace is meant to breathe life into the diplomatic process or whether its aim is to eliminate all vestiges of life from it, there are signs that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is treating the issue seriously.
Minister of Regional Development Silvan Shalom won't like it, but the prime minister has already decided to establish a special unit in his office for developing the economy in the territories. Foreign diplomats who met with Netanyahu on the eve of elections say that he agreed with them that the economy cannot grow along with checkpoints. He promised them to thin the obstacles and to leave in place only those that really contribute to security.
This is not the first time that the diplomats are reporting home that very soon life in the territories will change beyond recognition. The only question is what the Israel Defense Forces will dismantle first - checkpoints or outposts. Former prime minister Ehud Olmert had apparently planned to keep his repeated promises on the subject to the Americans, the Europeans, and no less important, to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Usually the instruction evaporates somewhere between the office of the defense minister, the chief of staff and the head of the Shin Bet security services.
If the order to remove checkpoints gets by them, it will disappear when it reaches the head of Central Command. And if the general was busy that day giving out medals of honor to soldiers in appreciation of the fact that they didn't kill innocent Palestinians, the cycle will end with the diplomatic-security coordinator who also serves as the coordinator of government activities in the territories.
In his final days in power Olmert gave an order to allow food products to be brought into Gaza, but the coordinator, Amos Gilad, informed his subordinates that pasta would not be eaten in Gaza until hostage Gilad Shalit can eat pasta too.
Defense ministers, and not only Ehud Barak, face the dilemma of whom to side with - a prime minister who is willing to take a certain security risk in order to make the Palestinians' lives easier, or the military and Shin Bet people who speak of warnings about terrorist activity.
The latter tend to season their reports with hints that if the minister orders the reduction of checkpoints, they will of course obey the order, but responsibility for the next terror attack will be entirely on him. Politicians don't like to take such risks.
If Netanyahu examines the security officials' policy regarding Palestinians working in Israel, he will find that his economic peace does not really matter to them. Recently the Shin Bet confiscated dozens of transit permits for residents of the territories, to the chagrin of their Israeli employers. Volunteers from MachsomWatch themselves have a list of 57 Palestinians, some of whom worked for decades in Israel, who have lost their source of income.
One of them, Awani Amarna, 58, from Bethlehem, is the sole breadwinner for eight people; for the past 10 years has served as a caretaker in the Conservative movement center in Jerusalem.
Amarna says that over a month ago he arrived at the checkpoint, as usual. The soldier glanced at the computer, took the permit away from him and sent him to the Civil Administration. From there he was sent to an interview with a member of the Shin Bet, who informed him that until further notice he was "denied entry."
Amarna has no security history and says that he has no idea why he has been denied the permit. Since then he has been sitting idle in his house and using up his meager savings.
The Shin Bet responded that the organization occasionally carries out checks of those denied entry into Israel, in order to match the list of those denied entry with the up-to-date situation assessment regarding the threat posed by their entry.
In the context of this "occasional check" many of those denied entry were allowed to enter Israel. At the same time, the decision was made to greatly reduce the number of those denied entry.
The Shin Bet noted that the entry of Palestinian residents into Israel is not an automatic right and that this was also reflected in the decision of the High Court of Justice.
On Monday there were reports of a substantial increase of the quota of entry permits into Israel for Christians, as a goodwill gesture in advance of the pope's visit next month (most of those newly denied entry are Muslims).
If the security situation makes it possible to allow the entry of hundreds of additional Palestinian workers, why did they have to wait until the pope's visit? And since when is the right to earn a living determined according to the worker's religion?
No longer needed
In his drive for an economic peace, Netanyahu promised in writing to approve the construction of a medical center for Palestinian children, which a Turkish entrepreneur wants to build in the Gilboa at a cost of $3.5 million. Although Olmert promised Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to accelerate the building of the center, the file is gathering dust in Barak's office.
Last summer security officials, led by the Shin Bet, announced that they opposed the project that would enable Palestinian patients and doctors to cross into Israel. Here is a fitness test for the new prime minister.
Had he not been elected to the Knesset on the Yisrael Beiteinu slate and appointed deputy foreign minister, Daniel Ayalon might have been asked to promote the issue. Until recently he complemented his pension from the Foreign Ministry with a fee for professional services that he received from the Turkish government in return for the use of the connections he made when he was the Israeli ambassador in Washington.
Ayalon used these connections in an attempt to stop initiatives in the United States and Canada to recognize the Armenian genocide.
But the Turkish government has not tried to hide its opinion about the strengthening of the right wing in Israel. When Ayalon joined Avigdor Lieberman's party, Ankara announced that it was waiving his services.