JERUSALEM Israel agreed Sunday to remove about 50 roadblocks in the West Bank and promised Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who is visiting here, that it will upgrade checkpoints to reduce the waiting time for Palestinians who have been hampered in their efforts to go about their daily lives.
Back in November 2005, Rice, after arduous all-night negotiations, extracted a similar agreement to work with the United States on identifying checkpoints and roadblocks to be lifted in the West Bank and to open up crossings into and out of Gaza. At the time, Israel maintained dozens of such obstacles, saying they were necessary to prevent, or at least limit, Palestinian attacks.
These days, Israel has more than 580 checkpoints and roadblocks in the West Bank and at Gaza crossings, according to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, which closely tracks movement and access in the West Bank and Gaza. The checkpoints and roadblocks include 30 that have gone up since the Annapolis peace conference late last year, when Israel promised to take steps toward a peace agreement.
Rice said that the experience of the last two and a half years has taught her that the United States must do more to monitor such agreements.
"We haven't been monitoring and verifying during the last two years," she told reporters during a news briefing after the announcement. "We want to be much more systematic about what is being promised and what is being done than we have been able to be in the past."
Rice is in the region for shuttle diplomacy her 14th trip here since the beginning of last year as part of her effort to push Israelis and Palestinian toward a peace agreement before President Bush leaves office.
Most of her efforts on this trip have centered on getting the two sides to agree to on-the-ground security for Israelis and access and movement for Palestinians, rather than the big political final-status issues that have bedeviled peace negotiators since 1979. These include the dismantling of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, the borders of a Palestinian state, the status of Jerusalem and the fate of Palestinian refugees.
A statement by the United States on Sunday, in addition to addressing the roadblocks and the checkpoints, also said Israel had offered to "significantly" expand opportunities for Palestinian workers and businessmen to travel to Israel from the West Bank.
The statement also said that Ehud Barak, the Israeli defense minister, and Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian prime minister, had agreed that Palestinian security forces in the West Bank must assume "greater responsibility."