It's a buried-away page 16 story in The Washington Post...but even then you've got to read well toward the end to find out how the Israelis are really treating the Palestinians, and indeed all of us, 'as fools'. This isn't the first time a plain speaking person resident of a refugee camp makes much more sense than the American/Israeli annointed 'Palestine Prime Minister' whom George Bush has taken to putting his arm around...and in public mind you!
Israel Removes 3 Checkpoints
Action Taken as Sharon Prepares to Meet Bush
By John Ward Anderson and Molly Moore
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, July 28, 2003; Page A16
EIN ARIK, West Bank, July 27 -- Israel removed three military roadblocks in the West Bank today and announced that it would release an estimated 100 Islamic militants from jail, moves that Israeli officials said were meant to strengthen the hand of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon two days before he meets with President Bush in Washington.
Palestinians at the dismantled checkpoints belittled the removal of the concrete barriers and dirt berms as a public relations stunt, saying that dozens of checkpoints and hundreds of barriers still in place in the West Bank rendered the gesture meaningless. Palestinian officials also complained that none of the roughly 400 prisoners Israel promised to release three weeks ago has been set free. Israeli officials say, however, that about 115 have been released from that group.
"These tokens are not enough unless there are tangible changes on the ground that affect the lives of the Palestinians," said Ziad Abu Amr, the Palestinian minister of culture. "Otherwise, these tokens will be dismissed as just manufactured and public relations."
A spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry, Jonathan Peled, said Israel was acting slowly and deliberately because the measures it has taken so far have not been matched by a sincere, concerted effort by the Palestinian government to curb terrorism.
"We're doing this step by step, very cautiously, trying to minimize security risks," he said. "Unfortunately, we haven't seen any steps on the other side."
Finance Minister Binyamin Netanyahu reportedly argued during an Israeli cabinet meeting today in favor of releasing additional Palestinian prisoners, saying that it was important to strengthen Sharon's position ahead of his meeting with Bush on Tuesday.
According to Israeli press reports, Sharon plans to reject a request from Bush to stop building a security fence around the West Bank. Palestinians argue that the fence is intended to mark the future boundary of a Palestinian state that would be limited to 45 percent of the West Bank's territory. Israel says the fence is meant to prevent suicide bombers and other terrorists from infiltrating Israel from the West Bank.
Bush met with Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas on Friday. The back-to-back talks are aimed at reviving a stalled U.S.-backed peace initiative, called the "road map," that has restarted direct negotiations between the Palestinians and Israelis but has led to few concrete accomplishments on the ground.
Palestinian leaders have secured from the largest and most radical Palestinian groups a three-month moratorium on killing Israelis, but have not made significant moves to dismantle the groups, arrest their members or collect their weapons -- key demands of the United States and Israel.
Israel has pulled its troops back from the Gaza Strip and the West Bank city of Bethlehem, but has not significantly eased the closures, checkpoints and other travel restrictions that have affected millions of Palestinians.
The Israeli military said in a statement that the dismantling of two checkpoints outside Ramallah, a West Bank city just north of Jerusalem where Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat makes his headquarters, and the removal of another checkpoint outside Bethlehem, just south of Jerusalem, were designed to ease conditions for Palestinians.
But Palestinians at the Ein Arik checkpoint, two miles west of Ramallah and four miles north of Jerusalem, said that no Israeli troops had been stationed there for months, and that Palestinian motorists had long ago created a dirt-road bypass around the barriers that closed the main road. On Saturday, the Palestinians said, the Israelis closed the bypass, enabling them to claim a public relations coup for reopening the main road today.
"They are making fools of the Palestinian people," said Farid Ibrahim Zeid, 47, who lives in a refugee camp north of Ramallah and used the bypass to travel to his job as a painter in the Jewish settlement of Maleh Adumim, east of Jerusalem. Asked if removing the barriers from the main road would have much of an impact on him, he said: "Not much. It will be easier on my car, that's it. Less dust."
Moore reported from Jerusalem.