- The Washington Times - Monday, July 25, 2005

JERUSALEM — Elevated road, sunken road or railroad: These are options being weighed by Israel, the Palestinian Authority and the international community in considering how the Gaza Strip is to be linked to the West Bank across Israeli territory.

Israeli sources say the Palestinians initially had requested a 25-mile-long elevated highway to link the two halves of the Palestinian state-in-the-making but that the international community, which presumably would be paying much of the bill, has suggested that it was too expensive.

The World Bank is to conduct a feasibility study on the sunken road and railroad proposals, each of which is expected to take two to three years to complete and cost up to $200 million.

For Israel, the main concern is that the link not provide access for Palestinian infiltrators.

Israel has gone to great expense in building barriers around the Gaza Strip and West Bank to prevent terrorist incursions and is uneasy about the prospect of thousands of Palestinians passing through its territory daily. But it has agreed formally to permit a “safe passage” between the two entities.

Proposals for the sunken road envision tangles of barbed wire and other defenses along the upper edges of the deep cutting to prevent people from climbing into Israeli territory.

Presumably, cameras and check posts also would monitor the route. There would be overpasses for Israeli traffic.

World Bank regional director Nigel Roberts says the Palestinians prefer the sunken road to a rail line since it would be cheaper to operate and easier for the shipment of cargo.

Israeli officials say there will be no serious discussion of the matter until the evacuation of the Gaza Strip is completed later this year. Among other things, Israel will want to be sure that the flow of arms to militant groups in the Gaza Strip via tunnels leading from Egyptian territory is halted, they said. Otherwise, the link to the West Bank would be utilized, it is feared, to ship rockets and other military materials for use against the Israeli heartland bordering the West Bank.

A safe passage route was opened in 1999 on existing surface roads in Israel but was shut down a year later with the outbreak of the Palestinian intifada. During that time, some 130,000 Palestinians were issued magnetic cards permitting them to make the drive on designated roads.

Some were obliged to travel in convoys escorted by Israeli security vehicles. After the suicide bombings of recent years, Israel is disinclined to again permit large-scale access by Palestinians to its roads.

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