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THE ISRAEL REPORT

September/October
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SAFE PASSAGES FOR PALESTINIANS - SECURITY FOR ISRAEL- BACKGROUND

Of all the Orwellian terms introduced since Oslo, "safe passage" certainly earns a special place.

Under "safe passages", Palestinians, including those barred from entering Israel, are able to pass between Gaza and the West Bank on designated routes inside Israel. It should be noted that the routes used are regular roads and highways which serve the Israeli public and pass by Israeli cities and villages.

Many see implementation of "safe passages" as one of the most potentially dangerous elements of the Interim Agreement. They consider safe passages to be a device to hemorrhage Israel's security by allowing Gazans barred entry into Israel to try their luck sneaking in via the unfenced and unguarded Green Line of the West Bank.

Another principle concern is the possibility that terrorists attack Israelis while traveling on the "safe passages."

An additional problem is that the interim agreement stipulates that at least one "safe passage" remains open under all circumstances.

There are also road safety problems with "safe passages" that result from the failure of the PA to effectively enforce automobile inspections, the licensing of drivers and the enforcement of the requirement that all cars be properly insured.

The term "safe passage" is defined by The Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip signed in Washington on September 28, 1995 (popularly known as "Oslo II") as movement "without any interference from Israeli authorities" [Annex I, Article VIII, Subparagraph 2d.(1)].

"Safe passage" should not be confused with Palestinian demands for an international corridor between Gaza and the West Bank. There is no mention of such a corridor in the Interim Agreement.

ISRAEL'S SECURITY TAKES PRECEDENCE OVER SAFE PASSAGES

At first glance there appears to be a contradiction within Oslo II: "The provisions of this Agreement shall not prejudice Israel's right, for security and safety considerations, to close the crossing points to Israel and to prohibit or limit the entry into Israel of persons and of vehicles from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. In addition, the provisions of this Agreement shall not prejudice the use of safe passage." [Annex I, Article IX, Subparagraph 1d].

Which takes precedence: Israel's security or the use of safe passages?

Since "Israel's right, for security and safety considerations, to close the crossing points to Israel and to prohibit or limit the entry into Israel of persons and of vehicles from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip" is NOT a "provision of this Agreement" but rather a right which transcends Oslo II, it follows that it takes precedence since "the use of safe passage" is only protected against "provisions of this Agreement."

ISRAEL - NOT THE PA - ISSUES THE PASSES

The agreement clearly talks of "the issuance by Israel of safe passage cards and vehicle safe passage permits" [Annex I, Article X, Subparagraph 2.a].

WHERE DOES THE SAFE PASSAGE START?

The safe passage is "connecting the West Bank with the Gaza Strip" [Annex I, Article X, Subparagraph 1a]. Since "safe passage" means "without interference from Israeli authorities" does this mean that Israel cannot even "interfere" by inspecting those who use the safe passage before they enter it?

While the "passages" at the borders are well defined (for example, "with regard to the Rafah crossing, from the terminal up to the outer limit of the Israel military location along the Egyptian border." [Annex I, Article VIII, Subparagraph 2.a.(2)] ?), no such all encompassing language is used in defining the safe passages.

"Safe passage...will be effected via...designated crossing points" [Annex I, Article X, Subparagraph 1b]. The absence of "interference" appears to start only after the crossing point is passed since "Safe passage cards and vehicle safe passage permits shall be stamped by the Israeli authorities at the crossing point..." [Subparagraph 2c].

RIGHT TO SEARCH

"Persons using the safe passage through Israel shall be subject to Israeli law. Persons and vehicles using the safe passage shall not carry explosives, firearms or other weapons or ammunition..." [Subparagraphs 3b and 3c]. It follows, therefore, that Israeli inspections to enforce these limitations take place at the crossing points themselves.

ISRAEL CAN BAR PEOPLE FROM USING SAFE PASSAGES

There are two categories of people using safe passages: people who Israel would allow to enter Israel anyway and those denied entry into Israel.

The agreement does not cover the question of safe passage for fugitive terrorists - or for that matter anyone wanted for any crime in Israel - since, under the agreement, the PA is obligated to transfer them to the Israeli authorities at Israel's request.

When Israel imposes closure, everyone affected by the closure automatically falls into the "denied entry" category.

While at least one safe passage is to remain open every day, under full closure a safe passage may be technically open but there would be no one who could use it most of the time since everyone would fall into the "denied entry" category. The "denied entry" group "use safe passage by means of shuttle buses which will be escorted by the Israel Police and which will operate from 7:00 AM to 2:00 PM on two days of every week." [Annex I, Article X, Subparagraph 2e].

"Applications by persons denied entry to Israel to use safe passage must be submitted to, and agreed upon in, the relevant DCO at least five days prior to the planned journey [ibid.]. Note that the application has to be "agreed upon". Israel can use a pocket veto in the DCO to deny entry to applicants. It should be noted, however, that Subparagraph 2d states that "Israel may deny the use of its territory for safe passage by persons who have seriously or repeatedly violated the safe passage provisions".

In summary, Israel can use the provisions of Oslo II to reduce security problems created by safe passages. If Israel believes, at any instance, that its security is compromised by safe passages, it can do whatever it sees fit - including closing down the program completely.

If Israel should fail to strictly exercise its rights, "safe passages" can seriously impact Israel's security.


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