West Bank Barriers Keep Rising Despite Promises of Relief

By Griff Witte
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, March 6, 2008

AZUN, West Bank -- Karim Edwan's skepticism about the U.S.-backed Middle East peace process is rooted in his morning commute.

To travel from his home in this West Bank village to his job as an emergency room doctor, the 35-year-old must take at least two cabs, skirt a barbed-wire fence, climb a dirt mound, talk his way through multiple Israeli checkpoints and remove his shoes for a full-body security check.

Before the obstacles were imposed, the trip to his hospital in the West Bank city of Nablus took 30 minutes. Now it takes two hours.

"It's my daily humiliation," he said.

It's also part of the explanation for why there is little enthusiasm in the West Bank for negotiations with Israel, and why Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is in a bind over how to proceed.

The hope of Abbas and other participants in the Annapolis peace talks last November was that the Israeli-occupied West Bank would become a model for what negotiations could bring.

They envisioned the residents of Gaza suffering under the radical Islamic group Hamas, which opposes Israel's right to exist and is not participating in the talks. Meanwhile, the West Bank, where Abbas holds sway, would be rewarded with a reduction of the internal barriers that Israel has imposed in the name of security. Checkpoints, barbed wire, roadblocks and trenches slice through the territory, cutting areas off from one another and causing economic hardship.

But in the more than three months since the Annapolis talks, more barriers have gone up than have come down.

"There has been no significant improvement in movement or access. And in fact, there's been an increase in the number of physical obstacles since Annapolis," said Allegra Pacheco, head of information and advocacy for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Jerusalem.

The organization's latest count of barriers in the West Bank is 580, up from 563 recorded in November and about 50 percent higher than it was 2 1/2 years ago.

To senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, the barriers represent a breach of trust. He said he has been assured repeatedly by Israel that a significant number of the blockades would come down.

"It's ridiculous to talk about anything involving economic development when this system of suffocation continues," he said.

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