by Khaled Abu Toameh
One of the good things Israel has done is to allow its Arab citizens to enter Palestinian Authority-controlled cities in the West Bank freely.
All Israeli citizens are banned by law, for security reasons, from entering these areas..
Although the armed intifada has stopped, it actually remains unsafe for Jewish citizens to eat hummus in downtown Ramallah or visit a dentist in Nablus.
But this does not apply to Arab citizens of Israel, many of whom have families and relatives in the West Bank.
Therefore it was wise of Israeli security authorities to permit Israeli Arabs to enter the cities controlled by the Palestinian Authority. There is no reason why Israel should ban its Arab citizens from going to these areas.
The decision has been particularly helpful not only because it allows Arabs living on both sides of the border to see each other, but mainly because of its huge contribution to the West Bank economy.
The next move the Israeli authorities should consider is permitting as many Palestinians as possible to work in Israel, as was the case in the good old days before the peace process -- of course without compromising Israel's security.
Palestinians who are not involved in terrorism -- and there are many like that -- should be granted permits to work in Israel. Israeli authorities have the means and tools to check the background of every single Palestinian. For example, there's no reason why women from villages in the West Bank should not be permitted to enter Jerusalem's Old City to sell fresh vegetables and fruits - a tradition that has exited [sic] for decades.
Again, it would be better for Israel if its Palestinian neighbors, and not Thai, Turkish and Chinese workers, could earn a decent living and return at the end of the day to their homes in the West Bank.
Israeli Arabs are considered a strong purchasing power. Almost every day, thousands of them converge on Palestinian cities to do their shopping and hang out in restaurants and shopping malls.
Some Israeli Arabs have even started opening their own businesses in the West Bank - a move that has further improved the economy and created an atmosphere of normalcy. Over weekends, most of the Palestinian hotels in the West Bank are filled with Israeli Arab families.
By allowing its Arab citizens to enter the Palestinian cities, Israel is hitting two birds with one stone. First, it is improving its relations with the Arab minority inside Israel. Second, it is helping boost the Palestinian economy in the West Bank.
Both steps are good for Israel's security. Of course this decision will not solve all the problems in the Middle East. Nor will it deter the enemies of peace from continuing to search for ways to destroy Israel and foil any attempt to make peace between Jews and Arabs.
But the decision will certainly ease tensions between Jews and Arabs inside Israel on the one hand and Jews and Palestinians in the West Bank on the other hand.
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