By Luis Lainer
August 10, 2003

There is nothing inherently wrong with Israel's erecting a security barrier between itself and Palestinian territories in the West Bank. As the Isreali Peace Now Movement, the Labor Party, and other Israeli organizations pointed out in the early days of the Intifada, it is crazy for Israel to allow its border along the West Bank to remain wide open to terrorist infiltration.

Too many Israelis have paid a heavy price because nothing stood in the way of terrorists slipping into their communities. Israel has a right and an obligation to defend its borders, and it is not the first country in the world to use a fence as one way to enhance its security.

iHowever, the barrier that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is so adamant about building is not the same fence that was originally envisioned. In fact, Sharon opposed the initial concept of the fence, which was to have been built along the 1967 Green Line, because he perceived its political implications. Building a barrier along the Green Line would imply that the Jewish settlements, which Sharon has nurtured for so long, would be candidates for dismantlement once final borders were established in a peace treaty with the Palestinians. As a result, settlers began to clamor to re-route the fence to swing widely into the West Bank in order to include settlements on the Israeli side of the barrier. It was only when the fence became a way for solidifying occupation of the West Bank that Sharon embraced the concept and added a twist of his own: the establishment of another security fence along the Jordan Valley in the eastern part of the West Bank, which, with the other barrier, would allow Israel to retain over 50 percent of the West Bank and deny Palestinians any hope of a viable state in the future.

It is this invasive version of the fence to which President Bush has raised objections, and rightly so.

As the main broker of the "road map to Middle East peace," Bush must be concerned about an activity that clearly violates Israeli obligations under that plan. The road map states that Israel will undertake "no actions undermining trust, including confiscation and/or demolition of Palestinian homes and property." Routing the fence so that it will cut off Palestinians from over half of their territory is certainly a confiscation of property.

Further, according to an official Israeli source, 85 percent of the land confiscated for the fence in its first stage of construction was expropriated from Palestinians, while just 15 percent was taken from Jewish communities.

Even though the Bush administration has leveled legitimate criticism against the fence's route, it does not obviate the Palestinians' obligation to fight violence and terrorism to their fullest capacity. However, the proposed barrier will make it much more difficult for the White House to pressure them to do so.

Israel has other reasons for returning the security fence to its original plan. By routing the barrier through the West Bank, it will not only bring settlers inside the fence, but also tens of thousands of Palestinians who live near the settlements. It makes little sense to sweep so many Palestinians inside Israel's line of defense, especially since they will be further angered by being cut off from their farm lands, relatives, and social services.

Pushing the fence further into the West Bank greatly increases the cost of the project for Israel. For example, if the barrier is moved to include the settlement of Ariel, it would need to be lengthened by 62 miles, and the price would go up by $224 million.

Finally, the security fence is not a static object that can be built and left on its own to provide Israelis with security. It will need to be manned along its entire path. Therefore, dramatically lengthening the fence to accommodate settlements will put an additional strain on the military, which will need to patrol and defend the barrier.

The security fence that runs along the Gaza Strip, which has been successful in blocking terror attacks during the Intifada, follows the Green Line, and so should the new security structure being built to separate Israel from the West Bank. Prime Minister Sharon could build the fence quicker and cheaper - saving more Israeli lives and money - if he drew the West Bank fence route using the Gaza model. He could also avoid a confrontation with the United States and fulfill Israeli obligations under the road map in the process.

Luis Lainer is chairman of Americans for Peace Now.