Why Israel Needs a Fence

Montreal Gazette- 24/02/2004

Israel’s security fence has become the latest focus for criticism of the country by a wide range of international bodies and personalities. Israelis have been warned against losing faith in reconciliation. They have been advised to build “bridges, not walls,” and warned against the danger of basing policy on the desire for vengeance, however understandable. The critics are right to feel saddened at the sight of relations between Israelis and Palestinians today. There is little there to give cause for joy. But they are wrong, gravely wrong, in believing that the construction of the fence derives from hatred, retaliation or the desire for revenge.

Israel’s security fence has become the latest focus for criticism of the country by a wide range of international bodies and personalities. Israelis have been warned against losing faith in reconciliation. They have been advised to build “bridges, not walls,” and warned against the danger of basing policy on the desire for vengeance, however understandable. The critics are right to feel saddened at the sight of relations between Israelis and Palestinians today. There is little there to give cause for joy. But they are wrong, gravely wrong, in believing that the construction of the fence derives from hatred, retaliation or the desire for revenge.

An overwhelming majority of Israelis support the construction of the fence. They do so because they have seen with their own eyes the result of entrusting their security to their declared enemies.

For seven years, from 1993 to 2000, Israeli policy rested on the assumption that in the Palestinian Authority there existed a partner committed to bridge-building and reconciliation. Tangible assets – land, water, security control and access – were ceded, as investments in a better tomorrow.

Continued Palestinian terrorism, ongoing incitement in the PA’s media and education system, and a lack of any attempt by the Palestinian leadership to prepare their public for the challenges of peace formed a discordant counterpoint to the great hopes of those years. But bridge-building and reconciliation – real or illusory – remained the watchwords. Then, in September 2000, after the Palestinians rejected an offer of a state with its capital in Jerusalem, the hour of reality’s victory over illusion struck. The PLO leadership came back from the negotiations at Camp David and launched a campaign of violence which continues today.

The construction of the security fence is a rational response to this situation. Whatever the future might bring (and one does not cease to hope), the Palestinian leadership, by its active involvement in terror since September 2000, by its blind eye to it in the preceding years, by its insistence on the so-called right of return (which would mean the de facto destruction of the Jewish state), and by its employment of imagery reminiscent of the darkest years of Jewish history in its propaganda has demonstrated that Palestinian nationalism is not yet ready for reconciliation with the Jewish state.

Lip service has been paid to countless formulas: to the Mitchell report,the Tenet document, UN Security Council Resolution 1397 and most recently, the Road map. All the while, the terror and incitement have continued without pause.

In the absence of a partner for bridge-building and reconciliation,Israel faces two clear and present dangers. First, the existence of an armed, organized and murderous infrastructure of Islamist and Palestinian nationalist terror in the West Bank and Gaza. We saw the handiwork of this infrastructure in the bloody attack on the No. 19 bus in Jerusalem a few weeks ago and again this past weekend.

The second danger is that of demographics – the fear that the growing Palestinian population, and the increasingly openly declared abandonment by the Palestinian leadership of any solution based on a two-state formula, could lead to a clash between the two peoples for control of the whole area a few years down the line.

The security fence is the response to these dangers. It offers a positive, although partial solution to both of them. Regarding the first, figures show that in the northern part of the West Bank, after completion of the construction of the fence in late 2002, successful attacks have dropped by more than 75 per cent – from 17 between April and December 2002 to five in 2003. Further south, meanwhile, in areas as yet without a completed fence, the level has stayed the same.

Regarding the second threat, the fence might come to play a significant role in demarcating the eventual border between the Israeli and Palestinian peoples. Should the Palestinians continue on the path of rejectionism, it might come to constitute a de facto dividing line between the Jewish state and an impoverished, chaotic Palestinian entity impotently committed to its own destruction. Should a more responsible Palestinian leadership emerge, the existence of the fence – not placed along the Green Line – could form a useful point at which to begin negotiations. The Palestinians would clearly have much to gain from keeping their side of the bargain in such a situation.

We are, alas, a long way from the bridges and reconciliation that seemed, not so long ago, to be within reach. Wisdom today lies in recognizing that Israel must for the foreseeable future make its own arrangements for its security and the maintenance of deterrence. The security fence is one such arrangement.

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