I was personally involved in campaigning for the West Bank security fence. I am increasingly unhappy with some of the results.
Around two years ago, as a member of the executive of the Council for Peace and Security, a non-governmental organization that groups some 1,200 former senior security personnel, I supported our sponsorship of the fence. Our idea was to base the fence on the green line (1948 armistice line) between Israel and the West Bank. The primary objective was to keep out suicide bombers, who at the time were walking and even driving across the border freely, with devastating effect on Israel. An earlier fence around the Gaza Strip has proven a formidable barrier against suicide bombers. It seemed to us that it is the primary obligation of any Israeli government to protect the 97 percent of its citizens who live within the green line by building a fence.
The fence as we conceived it had several additional purposes. One, at the strategic level, was to delegitimize the isolated settlements (but not the settlement blocs) that lie beyond it. We advocated their immediate removal, if only to free up the large numbers of Israeli security forces that guard them, so they could patrol the fence. We argued that even if the Sharon government did not remove the settlements, the existence of the fence between them and the State of Israel would contribute to their withering away. In the atmosphere of the past three years of failed peace process and Palestinian suicide violence, the fence was a legitimate expression of the desire of the vast majority of Israelis to separate our Jewish democratic state from the Palestinian territories, once and for all. Not to occupy or annex, but rather to go our separate ways and protect ourselves.
The fence had additional, tactical objectives. One was keeping out illegal Palestinian "returnees", whose numbers inside Israel have reached around 100,000. Another was to stop rampant thievery--of cars, agricultural equipment and produce, etc.--from across the green line.
The only deviations from the green line that we contemplated were for topographic security considerations, and to include settlements located directly across the line.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon initially opposed the fence, essentially because he feared the repercussions for the settlements, which ensure long term Israeli control over the West Bank. For obvious reasons, so did the settlers themselves. Eventually Sharon bowed to extensive public pressure, some of which we engineered, and undertook reluctantly to build the fence more or less along the green line.
When pressure was applied by settlers to include more and more of their homes within the fence, Sharon saw an opening to "hijack" the fence for his own purposes. This began with rather extensive deviations--and consequent hardships imposed on Palestinian towns and villages--to accommodate more distant settlements. Thus, in order to include Alfei Menashe inside the fence, the town of Qalqilya had to be fenced in on almost all sides and rendered a virtual enclave.
Still, most of the first two sections of the fence, the northernmost, are on or close to the green line. Along with some 22 kilometers of fencing in northern and southern Jerusalem, they have contributed in recent months (even before the ceasefire) to a genuine reduction in penetrations by terrorists into Israeli territory.
But when it came time to plan Section III of the fence, linking the Elkana-Ariel settlement region with Jerusalem, Sharon, now backed by the settlers, instructed the security establishment to plan a fence that deviates deep into the West Bank and attaches numerous settlements to Israel. Many Palestinian villages caught inside this area would themselves be fenced in and turned into enclaves. Sharon also revealed that he envisaged an "eastern fence" cutting off the West Bank mountain heartland from the Jordan Valley. In other words, Sharon intends to transform the fence from a security-separation barrier to a means of defining the enclave-like nature of that 50 percent or so of the West Bank that he intends to offer the Palestinians as a "state".
This is where the Bush administration has stepped in. Its protest against the fence, while generalized, is primarily (and legitimately) aimed at Sharon's attempts to politicize what is essentially a sound security measure and to create disastrous "territorial facts" regarding final status, at a time when the two sides should be contemplating renewing negotiations.
While a skillful Palestinian public diplomacy campaign was instrumental in energizing the administration on the fence issue, the famous Palestinian power point presentation that made the rounds of Washington is also instructive for its own distortions of the issue. It calls the fence a "wall" even though only nine kilometers out of 183 under construction or completed are configured as walls. While it legitimately highlights human rights abuses generated by the fence, it conveniently ignores the real reason for building it: the Palestinian suicide bombing campaign that was perceived by Israelis as a quasi-existential threat, and which the Palestinian Authority and the Palestine Liberation Organization did nothing to stop.
It is Palestinian terrorism that caused the fence to be built in the first place. Against terrorism, the fence works. If built on or near the green line, the concept is right, and could ultimately also have positive strategic political ramifications for both sides. Now, unfortunately, thanks to Sharon's excesses, the fence has taken on the dimensions of a fiasco.
Yossi Alpher is coeditor of bitterlemons.org and bitterlemons-international.org. He is a former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University and a former senior adviser to Prime Minister Barak.
The wall that Israel has been building in the Palestinian occupied territories under the pretext of security, the wall that is being called the apartheid wall by the Palestinian side, has lately drawn a great deal of high-level attention.
From a Palestinian point of view, this critical attention, including the pointed comments of United States Secretary of State Colin Powell, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice and President George W. Bush, is a success of the ceasefire. When things started to calm down, Israel found itself without justification for its practices. The same can be said for Israel’s wide-reaching restrictions on movement, which make no security sense but are rather collective punishment of the entire Palestinian people. Once the gun smoke cleared, Israel’s true intentions were laid bare.
In this climate, the continuation of Israeli settlement expansion, and the construction of the wall (a wall I have previously dubbed "settlement plus") cannot be defended. The growth of settlements and the expropriation of Palestinian land, both of which have intensified in recent weeks, expose the true nature of Israel’s practices in the occupied territories--to consolidate occupation by creating immovable facts on the ground and therefore prejudice the final outcome of negotiations, including the vision of President Bush, which is based on the two-state solution. To soften the impact of this project on international public opinion, the Israelis insist on calling the massive several-layered barrier fortified with guard towers, electrified fencing and tiers of barbed wire a "fence" and describing it as a means to prevent Palestinians with violent intentions from infiltrating Israel.
But even Colin Powell expressed amazement that a country would try to "defend" its borders by building a concrete 24-foot-high wall deep inside the territory of another country--a neighbor with which Israel purportedly wants to live in peace. The wall has been used as a pretext to confiscate more than 20,000 acres (80,000 dunams) of Palestinian agricultural land, which has subsequently caused unemployment in the towns of Tulkarem, Qalqilya and Jenin to rise to 70 percent. There is no security logic here.
Seen however, as an expansion project meant to colonize more land, the wall makes perfect sense. It surrounds and isolates Palestinian population centers and villages from their open agricultural land, while further separating Palestinians from illegal Jewish settlements also built on their land. It is part and parcel of other Israeli measures in the occupied territories which are creating two separate communities--one Jewish, the other Arab--that are separated physically and subject to two separate legal systems, economic opportunities, and restrictions down to the very roads they are allowed to drive on. In South Africa, they called this apartheid.
If Israel is trying through this settlement consolidation project and like activities to prevent the practical possibility of a viable Palestinian state, then it is well on its way. The result will mean a heavy price for Palestinians who will likely lose their opportunity for statehood, independence and self-determination--but Israel will also lose dearly as it gives up its opportunity to maintain a Jewish state. If the two-state solution is impossible, the result will be one political entity between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. Regardless of what the name of that place is or who controls it, the likelihood of it being a democratic Jewish state is pretty slim.
Ghassan Khatib is coeditor of bitterlemons.org and bitterlemons-international.org. He is minister of labor in the Palestinian Authority cabinet and has served for many years as a political analyst and media contact.
Judging by the number of statements made by United States President George W. Bush regarding the separation fence, or "wall" as he termed it a while ago, one might conclude that this is one of the central problems confronting American foreign policy. Indeed, based on the diplomatic and media interest displayed in the fence in western Europe, we could assume that this is one of the central problems of the world.
We recall that the primary impetus for constructing the fence came from the Israeli political left. Beyond enhancing security, the left had two principal objectives: 1) once again to separate the State of Israel from Judea and Samaria, and thereby to ensure that in Judea and Samaria there would arise a Palestinian state; and 2) to isolate the settlers, to cause them to feel "beyond the fence"--a loaded term from the standpoint of Jewish history, meaning removal from the community--so their will would break and they would abandon the settlements, or at least the more distant and isolated ones.
We also recall that, for precisely the same reasons that the left supported the fence, the settlers opposed it. But they had a problem: they feared lest their opposition be interpreted as sectorial selfishness--as if, in order to prevent the political fallout from the fence, they were ready to detract from the overall security of Israelis, most of whom, including supporters of the settlers, saw in the fence a genuine source of salvation. Indeed, the Yesha Council (Council of the Communities in Judea, Samaria and Gaza) took a position contrary to that of the majority of residents of the ideological settlements, and ceased opposing the fence. Notably, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon initially opposed the fence for the same reasons as the settlers. But he changed his position under massive pressure from a panicky public, orchestrated by the media with its decisive leftist influence.
The separation fence does not lie precisely on the green line, as the left and the Palestinians wanted. In at least one area, Ariel, it is planned to curve some 20 kilometers deep into the region that they, along with their Israeli and American supporters, see as the future Palestinian state. Not surprisingly, this has turned the tables: the left and the front organizations it generated to "push" the fence (e.g., regional councils comprising villages connected organizationally directly to the Labor Party, various non-governmental organizations, etc.) have now begun to follow the American lead and oppose the fence. After all, America is the source of authority; its plans, such as the roadmap, are supported by the left, which depends mainly on American pressure in order to realize its political schemes.
Yet it is on the right, particularly among the settlers, that the more dramatic turnabout has taken place. The settlers' support for the fence has evolved from ex post facto tactical acquiescence to something approaching strategic support. Their detractors, including the analysts of Israeli affairs in the intelligence and foreign offices of Europe and the United States, can now draw far-reaching conclusions:
First, Sharon's fence, the fence that has provoked such strong protest from the president, the Palestinians and the Israeli left, leaves under Palestinian sovereignty large portions of the historic Land of Israel.
Secondly, the settlers' support for the current course of the fence ostensibly proves, at least judging by the policy of their representative body, the Yesha Council, that at the deepest ideological level the primary motivation for the massive settlement movement of the past three decades--maintaining the territory of the Land of Israel under the sovereignty of the State of Israel--is no longer the central objective.
Accordingly, preserving the settlement status quo, i.e., the existence of the settlements, is from herein the central goal of the Yesha Council.
On Sunday, August 10, Israel's activist foreign minister, Sylvan Shalom, announced that "even friends can disagree" and that Israel, despite considerable American opposition, "will continue to build the separation fence as planned." Here the Sharon government's objectives dovetail with those of the settlers, who have a realistic assessment of its ability to maneuver. The government cannot and perhaps does not wish to challenge the Americans regarding the roadmap, i.e., concerning the establishment of a Palestinian state. Regarding the fence, on the other hand, the government is prepared for a confrontation. The reason: most voters, worn down by the past three years' vicious terrorist war, will support it over the fence, even if this means confrontation with America--but will not support confrontation over a Palestinian state. Perhaps, too, someone senior in the Israeli government knows that regarding the fence, despite the harsh exchanges, the Americans will not enter into all-out confrontation with Israel.
The important issue for the administration is the roadmap. If it can be implemented, the American taxpayer will in any case have to fork out tens of billions of dollars. So it makes little difference if two or three billion are added to cover the cost of dismantling the present fence and building a new one--a fence that follows the course of the border which, the Americans calculate, will be agreed upon in accordance with the roadmap.
Yisrael Harel, a resident of Ofra, is the founder and first chairman of the Yesha Council. In the mid-'90s, as chairman of the council, he participated in secret meetings between settlers and representatives of the Palestinian Authority. He is currently a fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute, Jerusalem, and a columnist for Ha'aretz.
A PALESTINIAN VIEW|
Putting the final touches on the conflict
an interview with Jamal Juma'
bitterlemons: What is the current status of the wall?
Juma': Israel has now completed one-third of the wall, from Salim to south of Qalqilya [in the northern West Bank]. This section is more than 110 kilometers long. A week ago, Israel approved another $100 million to build the section of the wall that will attach the settlement of Ariel to Israel.
The wall is now more visible than at any time before, and it is more clear what the Israelis intended this wall to be. We were told that there would be 26 gates in the wall [to allow Palestinians access to their land on the other side]. Of the six gates that have been built, two are totally closed. Other gates are partially closed [by barricades] and trucks can't cross to bring the produce from the fields. Most of the gates are only open for certain hours, and not the proper hours. For example, one gate is open from 7 to 8 in the morning and from 4 to 5 in the afternoon. But it is hot here, and farmers usually work from before dawn until six, then return to their fields in the late afternoon and come home late in the evening.
The other thing that we are seeing is that farmers crossing the gates are being treated as if they are crossing into Israel, and are therefore being asked to show a permit.
Lately, Israel has started to work on a road connecting Israeli land to a settlement just behind the wall [in the West Bank]. They didn't tell the Palestinian farmers [that owned this land] that the land would be confiscated but are behaving as if that land is now part of Israel. There was no notification, no confiscation order, nothing.They are doing what they want with it. It has become quite clear that Israel intended this to be a border, intended to confiscate this land, and intended to prevent the farmers from coming to their land.
bitterlemons: What is your perception of the Bush administration's comments about the wall?
Juma': We have had bad experiences with the US, even with what might have been called a more liberal administration. I think that these comments came out of the administration's frustration after it received criticism over the war in Iraq. After [Israeli Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon arrived in Washington, Bush reversed himself and said that there was an understanding that the wall was for Israel's security.
bitterlemons: What do you see as the greatest challenge in the campaign to fight the wall?
Juma': To mobilize the entire international community. We would like to believe that an apartheid system can no longer exist in this century, but now we are witnessing much worse. I think that we should work together to prevent this, but it is happening so quickly.
In a very short time we will see the West Bank divided into three major cantons and ten other enclaves and all the Palestinian people will be surrounded and besieged. Because of past experience, we won't now believe someone who only talks about this issue, because it seems that in this "peace" we are always paying the price. People have now learned that "peace" is meant only to satisfy Israel's needs, while no one seems to care about the occupation.
bitterlemons: Why should the average American or European care about this wall?
Juma': If we look at the second intifada and how the world has deteriorated, this region is one of the main reasons for this deterioration. We can't deny that September 11 was related to what is happening here. To solve the problem of the wall is to solve one of the fundamental issues in the region.
I don't think it is very difficult; what is needed is for the international community to force Israel to apply international law. We don't want anything more than that. But what we are seeing now is that the decision-makers, those who created these laws, are just ignoring them and establishing new rules to satisfy Israel.
bitterlemons: Are you satisfied with what the Palestinian Authority is doing on the issue?
Juma': Unfortunately, the Authority's actions came late, but we saw what happened when the Authority presented the issue, and how the Americans reacted. One of our main demands is that there be no negotiations without first stopping construction and dismantling this wall. Otherwise we will be falling into the trap of the Oslo accords.
The first thing that Israel did after Oslo was to open the bypass roads [connecting the settlements to Israel] and to double the number of settlers. Now we are stuck because of this. If we go to negotiations now, the same thing will happen. We will talk for one or two years, the wall will be finished around us and we will be stuck again. But this time, they are putting the final touches on the conflict.
I don't think that Palestinians will accept living in ghettos. This will not be the reward for their struggle and sacrifice. We were struggling for our freedom and for our identity and we won't accept to live as slaves controlled by a bunch of racist settlers, so I think that Palestinians will be much more aggressive, much more determined and much more together.
Jamal Juma' is coordinator of the Palestinian Environmental NGO's Network, which is spearheading a Palestinian campaign to fight the wall.
To unsubscribe from this bitterlemons text email list, simply write to firstname.lastname@example.org with "unsubscribe" in the subject line. To subscribe to the text version instead, write to email@example.com. Editors Ghassan Khatib and Yossi Alpher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com, respectively.
Bitterlemons.org is an internet newsletter that presents Palestinian and Israeli viewpoints on prominent issues of concern. Each edition addresses a specific issue of controversy. Bitterlemons.org maintains complete organizational and institutional symmetry between its Palestinian and Israeli sides.