Gaza may be linked to West Bank by train

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Israel has floated the idea of a rail link between Gaza and the West Bank during difficult and increasingly urgent talks between its government and the Palestinian leadership on the fate of the strip after Jewish settlers pull out in August.

Israel has floated the idea of a rail link between Gaza and the West Bank during difficult and increasingly urgent talks between its government and the Palestinian leadership on the fate of the strip after Jewish settlers pull out in August.

The proposal for a rail link between Erez, at the northern entrance to Gaza, and Hebron, the southernmost city in the West Bank is tentative, and no specific timings have been proposed yet. But it was mentioned in talks with Palestinian officials by Haim Ramon, one of the Israeli ministers entrusted with seeking to "co-ordinate" the Gaza disengagement plan with the Palestinians.

The move is apparently seen as one means of maintaining badly needed economic links for Gaza and of avoiding charges that one consequence of disengagement would be its further isolation from the West Bank, which forms what would be the larger part of any future viable Palestinian state.

Palestinian leaders have also been arguing strongly that without open borders and access to markets, disengagement could even have an adverse effect on the Gaza economy. Mohammed Dahlan, the Palestinian minister for Civil Affairs, had demanded that Israel reactivate the provision for "safe passage" between Gaza and the West Bank that was included in the Oslo Accords in the mid-Nineties but never activated.

The notion of a rail link was thought to have been discussed in talks yesterday between Israeli officials and ministers and Jim Wolfensohn, the former head of the World Bank who has been appointed by President George Bush as his special envoy to help co-ordinate disengagement. Israel is thought to take the view that such a link would be more secure than having Palestinian vehicles on the roads between Gaza and the West Bank.

The two sides are also seeking to reach agreement on the vital issue of customs and border crossings. Israel fears that both weapons and cheap Egyptian goods undercutting Israeli manufacturers could otherwise be brought in to Israel and the West Bank.

Comments