Prime Minister Ehud Olmert agreed Monday to grant amnesty to 10,000 Arab illegal aliens residing in Judea and Samaria, according to Palestinian Authority (PA) negotiator Saeb Erekat. The move would grant the illegals permanent
Approximately 54,000 Arabs in Judea and Samaria fall into this category.
The amnesty, if enacted, would apply to those Arabs who entered the country legally, on foreign passports, and then remained in Judea or Samaria beyond the terms of their visas. According to various estimates, approximately 54,000 Arabs in PA-controlled areas of Judea and Samaria fall into this category. 12,000 have already received residency rights through conventional requests submitted to Israeli authorities. Israel has been more restrictive on Arab immigration since the beginning of the Oslo War in 2000.
Erekat revealed the tentative approval for amnesty shortly after Prime Minister Olmert and PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas met for talks on Monday. The meeting was the first between the two men in over a month. In a three-hour meeting, they discussed the discreet ongoing negotiations between Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and PA negotiator Ahmed Qurei (Abu Ala). Olmert and Abbas reportedly agreed to speed the pace of negotiations in order to reach an agreement before the end of the year.
In his other comments, Erekat dismissed recent Israeli goodwill gestures, such as the removal of dozens of checkpoints in Judea and Samaria, as "a PR stunt."
"The siege and closure continue to be hermetic," Erekat claimed. "There is no change on the ground.... The West Bank is becoming a prison."
Erekat said that "settlement activities occupied a large part of the negotiations" between Abbas and Olmert. According to Erekat, Abbas told Olmert that "settlement expansion" needs to stop.
Israeli spokesman Mark Regev said that "both sides raised concerns."