Israel putting services in place in West Bank, Gaza
From Jerrold Kessel
JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Israel has quietly begun establishing new measures to provide services for Palestinian civilians in parts of the West Bank and Gaza, a government official acknowledged Thursday.
Under the plan, Israeli officials would take back 41 areas of administration that had been turned over to the Palestinian Authority.
According to Israeli government documents obtained by CNN, the plan would provide Palestinians with better educational services, health care and social welfare services. Israeli administrators would also grant, for example, travel and building permits.
A first tangible sign of the strategy was visible a few days ago when Israel allowed bus services to resume operations between the West Bank towns that its army now controls.
In reaction to a string of suicide bombings against Israelis, the Israeli military has ringed or occupied most West Bank cities.
Israel says measures are temporary
Israel said the moves are temporary but necessary to ease the lives of ordinary Palestinians.
Palestinian officials said Israel is trying to undermine the Palestinian Authority and re-establish the civil administration it maintained over the West Bank and Gaza before the 1993 Oslo Accords, which called for the transfer of civil operations to the authority.
Ra'anan Gissin, spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, said the moves amount to a contingency plan in the absence of any progress on peace.
"With the temporary and partial collapse of the services that the Palestinian Authority was providing their citizens, it's necessary for us, particularly in the areas where we try to provide for the Palestinian people's living conditions -- health care and so forth. And we're trying to do it without really re-introducing the civil administration," Gissin said.
According to the Israeli documents, the objective is "to encourage Palestinians and international organizations to work through the Israeli administration rather than through the Palestinian Authority."
The plans are being implemented without consulting Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat or the Palestinian Authority.
Erakat: Israel wants to 'destroy the Palestinian Authority'
Palestinian Cabinet member Saeb Erakat said Israel's intent is clear: to get rid of the Palestinian Authority.
"I think the endgame of the government is obvious: Destroy the Palestinian Authority, resume occupation and resume the old means," Erakat said.
But Gissin insisted the moves are only temporary.
"In those places where [the Palestinian Authority is] functioning, we are working through them. In other places, we are trying to work through international organizations that provide welfare because the most important thing is the Palestinian population. They can't wait until the Palestinian Authority will reconstitute itself."
Pressure from the United States has prompted discussions at the highest political and military levels on Israel's growing dilemma: how to balance security and the needs of Palestinian people without reverting to a full-scale civil administration or haphazard contacts with the Palestinian Authority.
The plan came to light as Israeli military sources said they would use new tactics against Palestinians trying to infiltrate Jewish settlements, including creating a 300-meter-wide "special security zone" outside the security fence protecting each settlement. (Full story)
Palestinian leaders said that despite what the Oslo Accords might say about who will control what areas of the West Bank and Gaza, the day-to-day reality is different.
Erakat summed up the situation like this: "Look, I am a Palestinian elected representative from Jericho. If a Palestinian wants to sell his fruit anywhere in the West Bank, he goes to the Israeli civil administration. If a Palestinian sick person wants to leave a hospital, he goes through the Israeli civil administration. Nobody can leave or enter my constituency without Israeli permission. Israel is, in effect, resuming the occupation."
The new measures will initially affect areas to the immediate north and south of Jerusalem, around the flash point town of Tulkarem, farther north in the West Bank and in southern Gaza.
Altogether, the measures could have a direct impact on the lives of about 700,000 of the 3.3 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.