How a Road Symbolizes Palestinian Frustrations

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The road to a Palestinian state may now be open, but Palestinians arenít exactly queuing up at the on-ramps. Yasser Arafat Tuesday approved a draft agreement to open a direct road link between the Palestinian-controlled territories in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, which he plans to combine into a Palestinian state. But Palestinians will be allowed to travel the road only at Israelís discretion, and thatís left many of Arafatís constituents angry and frustrated. "To travel this road to Gaza in my car, Iíll need a permit from the Israelis," says TIME West Bank correspondent Jamil Hamad. "I apply via the Palestinian Authority, which forwards it to the Israelis. They do a security check, and Iím given a permit five days later." Israelis control the border checkpoints onto the road, and reserve the right to arrest Palestinian travelers deemed a security threat. Although Arafatís negotiators had initially resisted Israelís demands for tight security control, they eventually conceded.

And those concessions tend to deepen Arafatís political problem among Palestinians. "Ordinary Palestinians see this as further evidence that no matter how much it protests Israeli demands, in the end the Palestinian Authority always goes along with what Israel wants," says Hamad. The message to Palestinians is that the sovereignty of the state Arafat would proclaim will be limited. "At this rate," says Hamad, "New Jersey will be more independent than Arafatís Palestine."