ישראל נאמן | Lectures, Articles, Tours: Israel | Mideast onTarget | Elliot Chodoff & Yisrael Ne'eman | De-politicizing the Fence

De-politicizing the Fence

13 August 2002

By Yisrael Ne’eman

At least for the moment Likud Prime Minister Sharon and Labor Defense Minister Ben Eliezer have decided to de-politicize the ‘security fence’ to be built between Israel and the West Bank.  Once it was thought the fence would meander to the east of Israel’s 1967 border and include Jewish development in Judea and Samaria.  Such a line made the fence very ‘political’.  The more territory and Jewish settlements included to the west of the fence the more the barrier was considered to be right wing. 

Wherever PM Sharon will agree to establish the demarcation line the right wing of the Likud can be expected to object and with them the challenge of former prime minister Netanyahu will grow.  Since Netanyahu is the challenger it is unimportant where he would suggest establishing the fence.  Should he be asked he would be in the same political bind as Sharon.

For the center left represented by Labor and Ben Eliezer, the same problem exists but with less intensity.  The major headache faced by both Sharon and Ben Eliezer are the suicide bombers whose activities can be cut back severely by such a barrier and accompanying buffer zone.  Due to the recent bombings both men are facing increasing challenges in their own parties and Ben Eliezer looks as if he may lose his post as chairman (and candidacy for the premiership).

International diplomacy comes into play as a fence running very close to Israel’s 1967 border will keep the Europeans at bay by not enabling them to claim Israel is developing a future boundary to include annexations.  The Americans through Defense Sec. Rumsfeld’s latest remarks have begun to publicly doubt whether the West Bank is really occupied territory at all thereby rendering the fence devoid of diplomatic significance.

All diplomatic, political and military actions are still open and the two hope to relegate the fence to just another policing tool in the hands of the security forces and thereby disarm their political adversaries.  On the diplomatic front the Palestinians would not be able to use the fence as an excuse for boycotting negotiations, it therefore tests their good will.

Sharon is gambling most, since if the fence is seen as a de facto border his right of center Likud party will give the nomination to Netanyahu when a candidate is selected for the next elections.  If terrorism is cut back sharply and Sharon can convince the Right and Center in the country that he will negotiate a territorial compromise based on Israel’s security and demographic needs he can take the next elections and keep his options open for negotiating new borders.

But with the possibility of early elections (to be discussed in a later article) and the imminent American attack on Iraq and its regional fallout, all political, military and diplomatic considerations can change.