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[haGalil onLine 2004 (Jan./Feb.): Zum Thema Sicherheitszaun]



Of fences, boycotts and international courts
by Yossi Alpher

As an anti-terrorist, anti-infiltration barrier, the fence is a good idea. Sunday's bus-bombing in Jerusalem demonstrated once again why we need a fence. But why is it so hard for us to get it right?

The fence should have been built more or less on the green line. Had this been the case, the issue would never have gotten to the International Court of Justice at The Hague. Now, when it is too late, we seem to be arriving at this conclusion, but in the clumsiest of ways.

It is important that we are moving sections of the fence back to the green line, and announcing that certain planned enclaves will not be fenced in. But by doing this in perfect timing with the opening of the court's proceedings, we appear to be affirming that we recognize the justice of the Palestinian/UN case and the legal and humanitarian argument against the fence in its original, intrusive path; and that we fear the court's authority, with key planners of the fence seemingly afraid of being charged with war crimes.

Still, there is in these moves at least an element of damage control—which cannot be said about the extremely visible eight meter high wall that is being built in the Abu Dis neighborhood in Jerusalem. It is as if we consciously sought to provide the world with a photogenic section of the barrier in the world's most controversial city to focus on during The Hague deliberations.

Nor are we dealing intelligently with the court's proceedings. We submitted a deposition to explain why the court does not, or should not, have jurisdiction over this issue—and I agree with the position of Israel and most of the world's leading democracies that it should not. Then why boycott the court hearings by arguing that the judges will read our deposition anyway and we have nothing to add? Since when can anyone be certain that 15 judges will indeed read and fully absorb a deposition? And who will point out to the judges the distortions in the Palestinian presentation?

We have allowed the court hearings to become a major media and information arena for the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. But instead of the government of Israel being represented at the court, it is financing and briefing a variety of non-governmental bodies who will argue its case in the streets of The Hague. We are asking the Jewish Agency, student groups, organizations of victims of terrorism, and Dutch evangelical Christians to argue the case instead of us. Their presence and contribution are important and welcome. But why have we gone underground on this issue and ceased to behave like a sovereign state? It is the State of Israel that should be pointing out again and again, in the court and to the media, that in every statement made by Palestinian spokespersons they conveniently ignore the fact that their suicide bombers brought about this fence—that they bear legal and moral responsibility for what has happened.

There are weighty claims to be judged here: the validity of Israel's ongoing occupation of the West Bank and Gaza; its right to defend itself against suicide bombers; the legality of the settlements (some of which are protected by the fence); Israel's right to requisition land for the fence; the validity of security constraints on Palestinian freedom of movement; the need for the dispute to be resolved at the negotiating table and not in court.

It could have been different had Prime Minister Ariel Sharon allowed the fence to fulfill its original anti-terrorist purpose and not hijacked it for his own objective of territorial gain. Now he's trying to do the same thing by hijacking another good idea, unilateral redeployment and dismantling of settlements, with the ultimate goal of annexing parts of the West Bank.

At this rate we're liable to end up back in court at The Hague on a second count.

Published 23/2/2004 © bitterlemons.org
Yossi Alpher is a former senior adviser to Prime Minister Ehud Barak and former Director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies, Tel Aviv University.

[haGalil onLine 2004 (Jan./Feb.): Zum Thema Sicherheitszaun]

Bitterlemons-international.org aspires to engender greater understanding about the Middle East region and open a new common space for world thinkers and political leaders to present their viewpoints and initiatives on the region. Editors Ghassan Khatib and Yossi Alpher can be reached at ghassan@bitterlemons-international.org and yossi@bitterlemons-international.org, respectively.

hagalil.com 27-02-2004



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