Israel may lift bar on entering West Bank

By Anshel Pfeffer, July 22, 2010

The IDF is considering lifting the ban on Israelis entering Palestinian cities in the West Bank for the first time in a decade.

The ban was originally imposed a few months after the second intifada began in late 2000, after a number of Israelis who had entered the cities of the West Bank were murdered by terror groups.

Since then, roadblocks at the entrances to all the cities prevent Israelis from entering. Palestinian police who find Israelis in those cities without an official permit arrest them and escort them out to the roadblocks.

As security has greatly improved over the last two years, the Israeli and Palestinian authorities have gradually relaxed the restrictions, allowing Israeli Arabs free entry. A growing number of businesspeople have also received permits.

Last month, for the first time, a group of Israeli tour guides were given permits to visit Bethlehem, allowing them to accompany groups of Christian tourists interested in visiting all the main pilgrimage sites, both in Israel and the Palestinian territories.

Proposals to allow Israelis free entry to the cities were rejected in the past for fear that there were still groups interested in abducting and harming them. However, as the cities have been relatively peaceful over the last year, since the arrival of new American-trained battalions of Palestinian security police, the issue is once again under consideration.

The Palestinian Authority is very interested in seeing Israelis once more in their cities as a boost to the local economy.

Since the order banning Israelis from the Palestinian cities is signed by the commander of the IDF's Central Command, the general in command, Avi Mizrahi, will have to recommend to Defence Minister Ehud Barak, whether or not to lift the ban. Gen Mizrahi, who is in favour of cooperation with the Palestinian security forces, visited both Jenin and Jericho in recent weeks with his staff officers. This was the first time he was an official guest.

Last updated: 11:07am, September 6 2010