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Israel Wants to Build Railroad for Arabs Linking Gaza to Judea

If you thought the Oslo Accords were dead, take another look: One of its oddities was the idea of providing "safe passage" between Gaza and Judea for PA Arabs. Previously shelved, the plan is back.
By Scott Shiloh
First Publish: 7/6/2005, 3:03 PM / Last Update: 7/5/2005, 6:58 PM

One of the many provisions in the Oslo Accords that were never implemented was an idea known as “safe passage.” Safe Passage meant that Israel would provide the Arabs of the Palestinian Authority with an overland route - approximately 25 miles - through Israel’s pre-1967 boundaries, allowing them to travel freely with a minimum of restrictions, between the coastal Gaza region and Judea, south of Jerusalem.

The idea was fraught with major logistical problems, particularly the issue of how to prevent the Arabs from driving off the road and into the heart of Israel. The authors of the Oslo agreement were worried then about car thieves, job seekers without permit, and the possibility of providing safe passage for suicide bombers. They believed that if something went wrong, the idea could be safely shelved and implemented at a later date.

The upsurge in suicide bombings that began shortly after the Oslo accords were signed and the subsequent Oslo war that took over 1200 Israeli lives seemed to put the idea of safe passage permanently on hold.

Until now. The PA reportedly has conditioned its cooperation on implementing the withdrawal and expulsion of Jews from Gaza and northern Samaria on implementing the safe passage provisions of the Oslo accords.

Israel and representatives of the Palestinian Authority on Tuesday announced an agreement to create a land link between Gaza and Judea and Samaria, in order to implemen the safe passage concept.

Under the agreement, Israeli security forces would start escorting convoys of Arab vehicles from Judea, Samaria, and Gaza along the regular routes linking the two areas.

At a later stage, Israel has proposed replacing the use of its roads with a rail link that would connect Gaza with the Tarkumiyah checkpoint west of Hebron. Israeli officials have already approached the World Bank with a request to finance the line, which is expected to cost $175 million.

The World Bank, however, has suggested building a four-lane highway sunken into a five-meter wide trench. Israelis would be able to cross the highway via overpasses that would be built at various intervals over the trench. The estimated cost of this project, which effectively dissects Israel into two parts, is only $130 million. The World Bank also believes it would be easier to operate than a rail line.