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The Mid-east Fence:
They Must Climb Down!

Shira Herzog

No matter how they react officially, both Israelis and Palestinians have a problem after the International Court of Justice ruling against Israel's West Bank security fence.

Israel cannot continue construction as planned because it is caught between the international ruling, which it rejects, and its own Supreme Court, which recently ruled that parts of the intrusive fence must be altered to reduce their negative impact on Palestinians. While Palestinians may be emboldened by international reaction to the ICJ decision, they'll gain little in the long term unless they assume responsibility for the terrorism that led to the fence. Ironically, though, the harsh ruling could offer both sides an opportunity to step back and deal with their current impasse more reasonably.

The Israeli and Palestinian reactions to the court's decision reflect historic, conflicting positions on the status of areas occupied by Israel since the 1967 Six-Day War. Palestinians view as illegal every Israeli action in what they define as occupied Palestinian land. Therefore, unilateral moves such as settlements, outposts and the fence are all a breach of international law and should be opposed. Israel believes that the right to protect its citizens justifies security measures such as the fence, especially since the status of the areas occupied in the 1967 war remains unresolved. (In the absence of peace treaties, Israel's 1949 armistice lines along the West Bank and Gaza Strip were never declared official borders.)

Both of these positions are ingenious. Palestinians oppose the fence while conveniently ignoring its root cause. Under Yasser Arafat's disastrous leadership, they've been unwilling to do anything meaningful to challenge Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. As recently as last week, when leaders of the Middle East quartet (the United States, the United Nations, Russia and the European Union) urged Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia to act swiftly on security and political reforms, he criticized them for discussing anything but the fence. Ultimately, Palestinian inaction speaks louder than their rhetoric in international forums.

Mr. Sharon has also erred. Last year, in seeking to reconcile the public's desire for a barrier and his own interest in holding onto significant portions of the West Bank, he crafted a problematic route that was bound to backfire. Instead of clearly separating Israelis from Palestinians (as intended by the barrier's original architects), the hybrid route separates Israelis from Israelis and Palestinians from Palestinians.

Mr. Sharon angered his supporters on the right by leaving thousands of Israeli settlers outside the fence. More seriously, he handicapped the lives of close to 400,000 (out of nearly two million) Palestinians -- by including them on the Israeli side of the fence, separating them from agricultural lands, or virtually locking them between primary and secondary fences.

It was fallacy to assume that a fence through the heartland of Palestinian living patterns could guarantee security in the absence of a negotiated agreement. The number of terrorist infiltrations has dropped significantly since construction began, but the absence of a political horizon will eventually lead to more sophisticated lethal attacks that move over or under the fence. Even if locked in enclaves, Palestinians will continue to resist.

What next? Ironically, taken together, the Israeli Supreme Court and ICJ rulings could provide an opportunity for both sides to climb down a notch from their respective trees. The Israeli government is already altering the fence's route in line with the Supreme Court directive. In the final analysis, it is likely to resemble the territorial arrangements proposed by former U.S. president Bill Clinton in December of 2001.

For their part, the Palestinians, instead of investing all their energy in fighting the fence, could consider a ceasefire and undertake security reforms that would make it easier for Israel to change the route.

Unfortunately, such ideas have little chance as long as Mr. Sharon opposes negotiations with the Palestinian Authority and Mr. Arafat remains determined to control Palestinian security forces.

Nevertheless, Israel can't afford to ignore the ICJ ruling. U.S. support notwithstanding, the international relations it needs and desires will suffer as a result of this week's developments. But more important, Israelis have to consider the longer-term implications of a fence that creates an ongoing incentive for Palestinian attacks. Israeli political scientist Emanuel Adler puts it starkly: "It is in Israel's national interest not to create a new 'injustice,' which Palestinians will try to redress for future generations." It's time to rethink the fence.

Source: Globe and Mail, July 10, 2004, http://www.globeandmail.com

CGNews promotes constructive perspectives and dialogue about current Middle East issues. The views expressed in these articles are those of the authors, not of CGNews or its affiliates.

From the Common Ground News Service
hagalil.com 22-03-2004



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