Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon on Thursday unveiled a two-year, multi-million-shekel plan to upgrade West Bank crossings, in a bid to make the checkpoints more efficient and more secure.
“The plan is designed to increase the number of Palestinian workers who go through the checkpoints, as well as improving their conditions and adhering to quality and service,” Ya’alon said in a statement.
This plan would also “upgrade the technological level of the [security] measures found at the crossings,” he added.
Ya’alon, believed to be on his way out of the ministry in a coalition reshuffle, said the program will decrease the wait times at crossings between “30 to 50 percent.”
In addition, it will increase the amount of goods that can be transferred by “approximately 30%,” he predicted.
The program will be implemented by the Defense Ministry, Finance Ministry and Israel’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories. It is expected to cost some NIS 300 million ($77m), from COGAT’s funds.
Difficult conditions at West Bank checkpoints, where tens of thousands of Palestinians enter Israel daily from the West Bank to work, have long come under criticism in the Israeli media. Far-right Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel gave the issue new life on April 15, when he slammed Palestinian suffering at the crossings as “shameful and a disgrace to the State of Israel and to the security establishment.”
Ya’alon’s announcement of the plan came a day after it emerged that his ministerial post had been offered to leader of the Yisrael Beytenu part MK Avigdor Liberman as a maneuver to broaden the government coalition.
Liberman and Netanyahu began talks in earnest Wednesday afternoon to bring the six-seat Yisrael Beytenu party in the Likud-led government, with reports quickly emerging that Netanyahu had acceded to Liberman’s demand for the defense portfolio.
On Thursday morning, Liberman met with Likud minister Yariv Levin, who Netanyahu tasked with managing the Yisrael Beytenu negotiations, to seal the agreement.
Levin told the Haaretz daily that there were no major differences between the sides, and that, in fact, the conclusion of the talks was mostly a function of “how long it’ll take to put things in writing.”
Ya’alon was reportedly to be offered the post of foreign minister as Netanyahu moves to relieve him of his defense job. Netanyahu and Ya’alon planned to meet Thursday to discuss the cabinet reshuffle, according to Israel Hayom, a tabloid seen as closely linked to Netanyahu.