Israel's Fence Had Better Follow the Green Line

James Klurfeld

February 12, 2004

The first thing to understand about the Israeli decision to build a security fence separating its territory from that of the Palestinians is that it is a move of necessity, not choice.

For all the pros and cons you will hear about the security fence, Israeli officials had no choice but to find a way to minimize the number of people being killed after more than three years of suicide bombings inside Israel and more than 900 noncombatants killed.

Recent polls show that approximately 85 percent of the Israeli population favors a security fence. Indeed, while it is being championed by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, the concept was originally advanced by Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and the Labor Party. Until recently, the more hard-line Likud opposed the fence because it would mean the dismantlement of many, if not most, settlements that would be outside the fence.

The fence also represents the massive failure of the 30-year peace effort that began with the disengagement talks after the 1973 war and reached their high point in the Oslo accords in 1993. Having to build the fence is recognition that there is no hope of a negotiated settlement in the foreseeable future. Blame that on Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian leadership's inability to ever say yes to a compromise deal and their inability or unwillingness to control terrorism against Israel.

But having said all that, the key question now is not whether the fence should be built. It is being built, and will be expanded. The question is where it will be built. As Israel analyst David Makovsky argues in a soon-to-be-released article in Foreign Affairs, there is a good fence and there is a bad fence, and it is going to be very important for the Bush administration to put maximum pressure on Israel to build the right one.

The good fence is the one that adheres most closely to the green line that separated Israel from the West Bank before the 1967 war. It would leave about 85 percent of the West Bank to the Palestinians - the basis, eventually, for a contiguous state. And it would minimize the number of settlers who would have to be protected deep in Palestinian territory.

The bad fence would be built around most of the existing Israeli settlements in the West Bank and carve the remaining West Bank - almost half of it - into a series of non-contiguous cantons. It would be much easier for Sharon to implement politically in the short run, of course, but it would be a nightmare to control and be terribly humiliating to an already demoralized population.

Even the good fence would include an incursion into the West Bank to include the huge, modern suburban Israeli settlement of Ariel, which now has a population of about 22,000 people. Ariel is a testament to the utter folly of the settlements and the reason why many believe the United States should have protested far more rigorously when the Likud government built it and others like it. The Israelis might ask how they can abandon such a huge town, but they ought to ask why the Palestinians should have to accept it.

It's more than ironic that Sharon, the architect of the settlements policy, is now faced with the task of dismantling many of them. His recent proposal to remove all settlements from Gaza leads to the logical question of why all settlements, except those contiguous to the Green line and needed for security reasons, shouldn't be removed. The need for the fence is finally forcing Israelis to face some very difficult questions. Election year or not, the Bush administration must use its considerable influence to make certain that the good fence is built.

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