During her last visit to the region on March 30th, Secretary Rice was able to announce a joint agreement of ‘concrete steps’ after her trilateral with Israeli Minister of Defense Ehud Barak and Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. Here is what it said on Palestinian freedom of movement in the West Bank:
Israel has pledged to reduce the impediments to access and movement in the West Bank. This will begin with the removal of about 50 roadblocks and immediate steps to upgrade checkpoints to reduce waiting time without sacrificing security.
The most credible and quoted source for keeping a tab on this is the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) of the UN. Their latest closure tally of all obstacles to Palestinian movement in the West Bank was 580—a quite stunning number for an area that is smaller than the state of Delaware (the 2nd smallest state in the US). That 580 number came before the latest commitment to improve things.
So, how’s it going?
Rather well actually—until that is, one checks the small print.
The IDF stated that it has removed 61 obstacles. It provided a list of those 61 to OCHA with the relevant GPS coordinates (the IDF knows that without the OCHA kosher certificate this will not be taken seriously, and yes, the IDF works with the UN). OCHA took the list and GPS coordinates and did what it does best—checked the reality on the ground.
OCHA gave an update briefing to some diplomats and others last week (partially reported in Haaretz)—it was off the record, but here are the findings: Of the 61 obstacles on the list, 44 had indeed been removed. Six were still in place and OCHA found no proof of the prior existence of the final 11 obstacles supposedly done away with. 44—not bad…except this—only 5 of those 44 were part of OCHA’s previous 580 count. How so? Well the other 39 were not considered to have been real obstacles of any relevance or significance to Palestinian movement in the first place—in fields or areas inaccessible to Palestinians or of no real affect.
There is a phrase in English for this, for what has happened so far in implementing the latest commitments on obstacle removal—it is called being done up like a kipper…