A fence on the West Bank that could heal

Gabrielle Goodfellow ’04 attacks the “preposterous security justifications” for the barrier that is being set up between Israel and the West Bank (“The fallacy of Bush’s road map on this third anniversary of the Intifada,” (9/26). But after 100 suicide bombings in Israel, all launched from the West Bank, Israel is insisting that a security fence is more likely than anything else to end the bloodshed. The vast majority of Israelis, from the left to the right, now support the fence.

A suicide bomber’s trip from his West Bank base to a pizzeria or shopping mall in Israel takes less than half an hour on foot. The residents of central Israel live under the threat of bombers that can target them for death within 15 minutes of infiltrating the country, and no Israeli population center is farther than a few miles from Palestinian areas. Not a single suicide bomber has come from Gaza because Israel built a fence around the area several years ago — and despite the enormous cost, the Israelis are now replicating this project on the West Bank.

Goodfellow also worries that the path of the West Bank security fence will “pre-set future national borders” between Israel and the Palestinians.

But the portion of the fence that has been set up so far, and the proposed sections that have yet to be built, outline a Palestinian state that would actually have more territorial contiguity than that which was proposed at the landmark Camp David summit of 2000. The fence was originally a left-wing conception and is apparently being implemented along lines similar to those the left-wing parties would have proposed. Even a contested plan to keep the settlement of Ariel on the Israeli side of the fence would be consistent with the Camp David proposal and the Taba offer of 2001.

In order words, if it is valid to assume that building the security fence will prejudice a final border between Israel and the Palestinians, it does so in favor of a scenario of widespread Israeli concessions. While falling short of the demands that Palestinian will likely make in permanent status negotiations, these concessions have drawn an outpouring of complaints from Israeli conservatives, and thus represent something of a compromise position.Ê

The path of a barrier set up by the Israelis is inevitably going to be selected unilaterally, and the topography that can support an effective fence will be a major consideration, but the fence ultimately does not establish a political border. The official border between Israel and a Palestinian state will be determined by mutual consent of the parties. Once the parties return to the negotiating table and agree on final borders, all grievances about the line being too far east or west in certain areas will be put to rest.

So why are the parties not negotiating a final border presently? In the summer of 2000, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak went to Camp David, and with the guidance of President Clinton, presented a permanent status offer to Yasser Arafat that would have addressed all major Palestinian demands and given Arafat the vast majority of the territory he was asking for. Chairman Arafat declined the offer, and Israel made proposals in December 2000 and January 2001 at Taba, Egypt to give the Palestinians over 97 percent of the territory they demanded, including a land bridge between the West Bank and Gaza. Arafat continued to reject the offers, and talk collapsed in January.

Since that time, the conduct of neither party has been ideal. But most analysts of the conflict, and officials of the Quartet for Middle East peace, are in agreement that if terrorism can be reduced, the Israelis can be brought around once again to the conciliatory stance they took in 2000 and early 2001, and the permanent peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians will ultimately be along the lines of Israel’s later offers. There is growing recognition, however, that the Palestinian leadership remains unwilling or unable to build a state that does not embrace terrorism.

Ever since its establishment in the West Bank and Gaza, Yasser Arafat’s Palestinian Authority has reached understandings with Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist organizations and tolerated their operations. Hamas has been allowed to develop a massive network of terrorist cells, an arsenal of illegal arms and an expansive recruiting infrastructure on Palestinian soil. Arafat once praised Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin as his “beloved brother,” and PA Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia recently referred to Hamas co-founder Mahmoud al-Zahar similarly.

The Palestinian leadership has failed to build a nation that bars terror organizations from flourishing on its soil, and Israelis are understandably terrified of having a terrorist state in their backyard. Meanwhile, PA-dominated religious institutions continue to indoctrinate against Jews, and posters of suicide bombers continue to hang in Palestinian classrooms. Until Palestinian leaders who can break with these destructive traditions emerge, it appears likely that the security fence will continue to go up and genuine peace will be postponed to a distant day.



Dan Fichter is a sophomore in Silliman College. He is a member of Yale Friends of Israel.

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