July 4, 2002
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon told the security cabinet Wednesday morning that the Israel Defense Forces will remain in Palestinian cities in the West Bank for a prolonged period of time.
“We will remain in the centers of the cities for a very long time,” Sharon said, adding that the army should take gradual steps to ease the restrictions imposed on the Palestinian populace as part of Operation Determined Path, and “to begin in quiet areas.”
One of the decisions reached was to grant 5,000 work permits to Palestinians, in addition to the 2,000 workers who are already legally employed in Israel. Furthermore, the cabinet approved a series of steps that would make it easier for local and international aid organizations to carry out their missions. The cabinet also authorized a limited unfreezing of Palestinian assets, intended to pay for the Palestinian Authority water and electric costs.
However, the cabinet did not fully approve the plan proposed by Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer and Major General Amos Gilad, IDF policy chief for the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Their plan, which was endorsed by Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and had the backing of the Shin Bet Security Services, called for issuing 30,000 work permits.
The defense minister said that the easing of sanctions were intended to break the “cycle of frustration created by terror, Israeli actions and the terrible socio-economic status in the territories which feeds the terror.” Because of the unusually long meeting, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon cancelled his planned visit to Jerusalem border fence building sites.
The Wednesday meeting was the security cabinet’s first since the beginning of Operation Determined Path, which sent large numbers of IDF troops into West Bank cities in response to a renewed wave of suicide bombings.
Prior to the meeting, it was reported that Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Abdullah sent Sharon a message saying that the Arab world would attach great importance to Israeli measures easing curbs on the civilian population, especially following U.S. President George W. Bush’s recent speech on Middle East policy.
Under pressure from Washington to allow Palestinian civilians more freedom of movement, Sharon said Monday that he had ordered military officials to examine measures to ease IDF-enforced limitations without harming the security effort.
Despite Sharon’s vow to stay in Palestinian-ruled areas as long as attacks on Israelis continue, his adviser Ra’anan Gissin said the army planned to “reduce its presence” to ease hardships on the Palestinians and let in humanitarian aid.
Israel Radio reported that the Saudi crown prince had sent a message to Sharon urging him to unfreeze Palestinian Authority funds. But it quoted Sharon as saying that the funds would remain frozen, for fear of their being misused to finance terrorist operations against Israel.
Israel’s embassy in Washingtion sent the government a list of possible gestures that it believed the White House would welcome, the radio reported. Among the measures were immediate dismantling of all illegal settler outposts in the West Bank, and allowing freedom of travel to members of the Palestinian legislature and senior PA officials dealing with humantarian matters.