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The Security Fence: Left, Right and Palestinians

05 August 2002

By Yisrael Ne’eman

As mentioned last week in this column Israel needs a security fence and effective buffer zone more than ever.  In the past half year the discussion over a unilateral separation from the Palestinians has dominated public discourse and virtually everyone agrees on its necessity, in principle.  So why after a government decision to build 110 kilometers of fencing have only thirty meters been completed?

The defense ministry claims public tenders went out and are only being awarded now.  Israel is known for its convoluted, bureaucratic overly legalistic way of doing almost anything.  In many cases nothing gets done as a result of public pressure groups applying for court injunctions.  Sometimes a minor clause has been overlooked in a contract and then discovered by a lawyer opposed to the agreement, thereby causing endless delays.  To stop the establishment of the fence and buffer zone would be too unpopular for anyone to play such a bureaucratic game.  Furthermore the project is expected to save hundreds of lives by keeping out terrorists.  Everyone knows PM Sharon is nick named ‘the Bulldozer’ because he gets things done when he wants to, despite oppositions, court injunctions and even legal statutes.

There are two approaches to building the fence.  There are those who see it for security only (the Right) and do not want to remove any settlements on the Palestinian side and there are those who see the barrier as Israel’s future border and demand the removal of all Jewish developments on the other side (the Left).  Both realize the fence has the potential of becoming Israel’s future border with the Palestinians. 

The Right, while including the vast majority of settlers would take in over 400,000 Palestinians and therefore ensure such a line would not be acceptable to most Israelis or Palestinians as a permanent border.  The Left wants the line drawn much closer to Israel’s 1967 borders, but would only include 35,000 Palestinians and could be seen by many (certainly in Israel) as a possible border, this being reminiscent of the Clinton Outline.   The Rift Valley along the Jordan River is not being discussed, yet there is agreement that Israel needs security control in this border area with Jordan. 

There is agreement on the first 110 kilometers, but afterwards the Right vs. Left maps do not coincide very often.  Forcing the issue can lead to the collapse of the National Unity Government before the Oct. 2003 elections.  This may happen in any case because of the economic crisis (and a good excuse to leave for whoever quits).

So why not build the first agreed upon portion?  Not so secretly, tens of thousands of Palestinians cross ‘illegally’ into Israel every day bringing back a few shekels to feed their families.  If there were a fence the humanitarian crisis in the West Bank would be much worse, so in a ‘turn a blind eye’ way, Israel is releasing economic pressures (most likely with the advice of the US and Europe) by allowing Palestinian day workers into the country.  When Israel wants no one in due to terror attacks, there is a closure of a specific area in the West Bank and if not, then just the general difficulties the Palestinians can physically circumvent.  Israel wants to avoid the Arafat demands for ‘internationalization’ of the conflict and in the meantime surreptitiously letting in such workers holds back European demands against Israel.

But politics is apparently stronger than Palestinian economic needs.  A fence can be built with organized crossing points for legal workers.  Anyone else caught would be treated as a criminal.  Building a fence as a well thought out element within the buffer zone is imperative for the security of Israel’s civilian population.

As popular as PM Sharon has been over the past year and half his support can evaporate if he is perceived as sacrificing lives for political gains among the Israel Right.  The same can be said for Defense Minister Eliezer in his relationship with the Left. 

The average Israeli uses two indicators to ascertain his level of security.  He counts terror attacks and casualties in the past month and measures the length of the separation fence completed. 

At the moment neither are very encouraging.