ישראל נאמן | Lectures, Articles, Tours: Israel | Mideast onTarget | Elliot Chodoff & Yisrael Ne'eman | Israeli Security Fences: West and East

Israeli Security Fences: West and East

12 November 2003

By Yisrael Ne’eman

Debate over Israel’s western security fence running close to the old border with the West Bank continues, especially over the issue of expropriated Palestinian lands and the separation between villages and olive groves.  The farmers are to be compensated and there are already 42 gates for crossings.  According to Israeli defense sources the fence has reduced terrorist crossings into the adjacent pre-1967 border area by 95%.  Those apprehended Palestinian infiltrators of late, admit they must circumvent the fence north and south if they are to be successful in terror activities.  Crime in the old border areas has plummeted, especially break-ins and car thefts saving billions of dollars in damages to the Israeli economy.

As for the placement of the fence, as argued before, it is not only for security but to ensure broad agreement within Israeli society as to where the future border will fall.  An agreement to withdraw to the 1967 border will force approximately a quarter of a million Jews to leave their homes, many just a mile or two across the frontier.  It is most important for Israel to avoid civil conflict as opposed to answering Palestinian demands. 

Any peace with the Palestinians will be dubious despite the recent attempts attributed to Yossi Beilin and the left wing, private initiative “Geneva Understandings”.  Even Beilin wants to keep as many Jews as possible from uprooting themselves, realizing the social explosion to follow could put an end to the State of Israel.  “Geneva” speaks of land swaps.  The fence takes in about 10% of the West Bank and therefore Israel would have to find the same landmass to return to the Palestinians.  In the Beilin-Abu Mazen Plan of the mid-1990’s it was suggested the western Negev along the Egyptian border be ceded.  Today Beilin also speaks of the border area along the Gaza Strip as part of an exchange. 

In principle the Geneva ideas sound reasonable – for the 1990’s.  But since then there have been some sixty tunnels dug from Egyptian territory under the 12 kilometer (7.5 miles) border and into the Gaza Strip smuggling in arms and ammunition (including rockets) to Palestinian terror groups.  Every kilometer given to the Palestinians along the Egyptian border will allow more weapons to be smuggled and may lead to an explosion between the two countries sharing a peace agreement (cold as it may be).

Israel’s eastern border along the Jordan River is another problem.  A fence is to be built allowing for a north-south security column of 10-13 miles (15-22 kilometers) in width facing the Jordanian kingdom to the east.  Jordan with whom Israel has a peace agreement, as often noted, is a buffer state between Israel and Iraq.  One can expect a doubly resurgent radical, militant Islamic Shi’ite Iraq to once again threaten Israel (and Jordan) in the not so distant future, American efforts not withstanding.  This eastern defense column guarantees Israel’s ability to defend itself against a massive ground offensive from Iraq and possibly even Iran in the not so far fetched event of the collapse of the Jordanian buffer.

The area in question is about 700 sq. miles or 35% of the West Bank with a very small Arab population (Jericho would not be included) of a few thousand.  The need to hold this area has almost nothing to do with the Palestinians except for the cross border smuggling of weapons which could endanger both Israeli and Jordanian security.  The real issue is the existential threat from the east.

Beilin and “Geneva” mention Israeli retention of this region for three years and then its handover to the Palestinians.  Israel will be allowed no response to a threat on the eastern front but rather be subject to Palestinian good will not to allow a border crossing.  True, demilitarization and international monitoring are spoken of, but should foreign Arab forces be invited into the West Bank, Israel will have no right to stop them.  Does anyone expect an international force to take on Arab armies to ensure Israel’s survival?  Furthermore Israel will bring the whole world down on its head should it launch a pre-emptive attack against such an Arab advance even should it cross into the West Bank.  Strategically, by then it would be a very late move since any threats must be stopped at the Jordan River.

The fence issue is a painful one for all concerned but Israel can neither shred its social fabric by a complete pullback in the west nor endanger its existence by ceding the east.  As for land swaps, they will only be exploited for further instability and terror.

The Palestinians will have to settle for a demilitarized mini-state with intensive economic development.  In the end Israel will be able to guarantee its future and the Palestinians can begin rebuilding their terror-racked society with western (including Israeli) help. 

An Israel projecting deterrence against terrorism and Arab armies will be a major factor leading to stability.