Olmert to IDF: "Think of the Palestinians suffering at the checkpoints"

Israel’s Haaretz newspaper reported today that “Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has called on IDF commanders in the West Bank to understand that the roadblocks are causing suffering to the Palestinians, whose needs should be appreciated to avoid a worsening of relations between the two peoples. Olmert made these comments during a closed-door meeting with brigade commanders of Central Command. ‘Take all the Palestinians who were stripped at the roadblocks, only because there was concern that some of them were terrorists. Take all those who stand at the roadblocks where there is concern that a car bomb will pass through’, Olmert said. ‘This can become a boiling pot that can explode and cause terrible burns, and it can also be something else, which only depends on your understanding and abilities to conduct yourselves with wisdom and determination’.” The Haaretz article can be read in full here.

The visit by Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to the Israel Defense Force’s Central Command was on Tuesday.

An information note distributed later by his office said that “The visit focused on the Central Command’s southern sector, especially the city of Hebron”.

The information note said that in his remarks to the officers and soldiers he met, Olmert “emphasized the need to ease restrictions – by as much as possible – on the lives of Palestinians in Judea and Samaria in order to help advance the peace process”.

The Prime Minister’s spokesperson, Mark Regev, explained in a phone interview with this journalist on Wednesday morning that “there has been an on-going discussion for the past weeks at the highest levels of the Israeli government” about achieving the right balance between two “conflicting goals”, which are the desire to provide the greatest possible access for Palestinian civilians, while at the same time protecting Israel’s civilians.

Regev emphasized that the discussion was within the Israeli government.

Asked if the Prime Minister was trying to push the Defense Ministry toward a bit more flexibility, Regev replied that “It’s not a matter of someone being right and someone being wrong”.

“The idea that you can take down most roadblocks is not serious”, Regev said, but “we are willing to take a calculated risk”.

Akiva Eldar wrote in another article in Haaretz today that “In the past, there have been cases in which Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had promised PA President Mahmoud Abbas that the number of roadblocks would be reduced, however data from OCHA, B’tselem and Machsom Watch suggested that the numbers have not decreased – only increased. In closed sessions held these past few days with Israeli officials, American diplomats assigned to the implementation of the road map expressed their dissatisfaction at the lack of change in Israel’s policy restricting the movement of Palestinians. Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s office would not comment, referring Haaretz to the IDF Spokesman. ‘According to the decision of the political leadership, the IDF lifted on Tuesday, April 1, 50 dirt obstacles and one roadblock, in an effort to improve the lives of Palestinians. In addition, the Central Command has evaluated the situation along with officials from the Civil Administration, and other measures have been agreed upon, including the lifting of 10 other roadblocks, which were lifted on Thursday, April 3. The IDF will continue assessing the situation and exploring the possibility for improving the lives of the Palestinians, while dealing with the terrorist organizations that are trying to strike in Israel’s rear and in the area,” the IDF Spokesman said”.

Akiva Eldar’s article is published here .

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