JERUSALEM A small number of Palestinian drivers were given permission on Tuesday to enter Israel, marking the first time in 15 years that vehicles with Palestinian license plates gained access to the country.
The decision to issue about 100 vehicle permits to Palestinian medical workers authorized to serve in Israeli hospitals was made by Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, the head of Cogat, the Israeli government body that coordinates civil activities in the Palestinian territories.
This is a significant step intended to assist doctors in completing their live-saving mission, said Brig. Gen. David Menachem, the deputy chief of Cogat. The success of this step will be evaluated in accordance with an assessment of the security situation.
In total, about 30,000 Palestinians with work permits can enter Israel, but they have had to pass through Israeli military checkpoints by foot for a decade and a half because of security concerns. The new arrangement will allow some vehicles with white Palestinian number plates, distinct from the yellow Israeli plates, to pass through the checkpoints.
The restrictions on Palestinians entering Israel were placed after their second intifada, or uprising, began in 2000. Before that, many more Palestinians had worked inside Israel. Some restrictions have been eased in recent years, after a period of relative calm.
In an interview with the Palestinian news agency Maan, Mordechai indicated that the move to issue vehicle permits was part of an effort to further ease restrictions on Palestinians who work or want to work in Israel. He said similar steps will be taken in the future to allow businessmen to enter Israel.
Last month, Israeli authorities announced that Palestinian men older than 55 and women older than 50 could enter Jerusalem without any permit. Also, married men older than 22 will now be eligible to seek work permits, Maan reported.
Husam Zomlot, an adviser to Fatah, the Palestinian political party that controls Palestinian areas in the West Bank, said the new permits for Palestinian medical workers were just correcting a very ill-conceived policy that had been in place for 15 years.
I hope that this marks the end of Israels decades-long use of collective punishment to inform a political agenda, Zomlot added.