The Mid-east Fence:
They Must Climb Down!
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,