The Quartet’s envoy on the disengagement James Wolfensohn noted Wednesday a significant progress in Israeli-Palestinian talks on economic and civil aspects of the disengagement, especially in relation to establishing an overland link between Gaza and the West Bank after the implementation of the disengagement plan.

According to Wolfensohn, Israel has agreed to consider a number of proposals for creating an overland connection between Gaza and the West Bank, as well as measures to ease people and goods entrance to Israel.

Senior Israeli officials confirmed readiness to discuss issues related to Palestinian movement within the West Bank and between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in addition to ‘handing over the keys to Gaza,’

Israel has proposed a railroad from Erez to the Tarqumiyeh checkpoint near Hebron. The World Bank estimates that this would cost $175 million and take three years to build.

As an alternative, the World Bank proposed that a four-lane sunken highway be built in a five-meter-deep trench, surrounded by double fences, and overpasses for Israeli traffic. The bank estimates the cost of such arrangements at $130 million and believes it would be much cheaper to operate.

Wolfensohn has proposed operating Palestinian truck convoys under Israeli supervision as a temporary solution for linking Gaza and the West Bank until a permanent link can be built. He has offered to purchase 30 trucks with international financing for this purpose. According to a diplomatic source, Israel did not reject this suggestion, but has not yet studied it thoroughly.

A senior Israeli source said: ‘Everything will depend on security. If they give us a few months of quiet, we can agree to allow trucks to pass.

Until recently Palestinians refused to discuss any other alternative to the proposed by the Oslo agreement ‘safe passage’ between Gaza and the West Bank, saying it was vital to elevate concerns that ‘Gaza first’ would also be ‘Gaza last,’ and that the disengagement would turn Gaza into an isolated prison.

Yet, seemingly, Wolfensohn has convinced the Palestinians not to insist on using the Oslo formula. They can insist on the principle later, he said, but right now, they should focus on practical arrangements.

The World Bank will soon submit a report that presents several alternatives to link Gaza and the West Bank, including the trench highway and an elevated road, and Israel has agreed to consider them all. However, Israel is currently unenthusiastic about the trench plan.