- The Washington Times - Friday, December 1, 2000

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak has been considering a radical plan to build a wall separating Israel from a future Palestinian state if the street battles and car bombs of the past two months make peace talks impossible.

Senior Israeli officials already have been ordered to begin drawing up a plan for a unilateral separation of Israel from a new Palestinian state.

Israeli lecturer Dan Schueftan, author of a recent book titled "Disengagement," argued Wednesday in Washington that Israel needs to build a long wall, annex settlements along the Israeli border and leave the Palestinians to their own fate.

Even the electric and water systems would be divided under Mr. Schueftan's plan, which has been circulated among Mr. Barak's senior advisers. The use of Palestinian labor inside Israel might be ended permanently.

In language that one of the diplomats and academics attending his talk said had not been heard in public before in Washington, Mr. Schueftan offered a bleak picture of a fortress Israel closed off to the 3 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

"There has been a major shift of public opinion. Most Israelis no longer believe Arabs and Jews can live side by side in peace. Because of the animosity, we can't work together and need two separate states," Mr. Schueftan.

"The strategy built on a partnership with the [Palestine Liberation Organization] in Oslo is at a dead end," he said at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. "We need a period of disengagement or separation… . There is no other option."

He said Mr. Barak has told him he has read his book and has distributed it among his Cabinet members.

A spokesman for Mr. Barak said Mr. Schueftan's ideas have been circulating in Israel since the outbreak of the latest uprising on Sept. 29, one day after hawkish Israeli politician Ariel Sharon visited the Temple Mount, or Haram al Sharif, in Jerusalem.

"The Schueftan program is one of the ideas that has been discussed from academia to the decision-makers," Barak spokesman Itzhak Herzog said on Oct. 25. "It was discussed many times in the past, and I can disclose to you it was one of the leading materials supplied to [government] leaders."

However, it is not clear how well the scheme is being received. Israel's Deputy Defense Minister Efriam Sneh yesterday dismissed Mr. Schueftan's proposals as "extremist and totally unrealistic and detached from reality."

Mr. Sneh, assigned by the prime minister to examine a unilateral separation plan in case all hopes for further agreements fall through, said by phone from Israel yesterday: "I am trying to do what is feasible and draw up a plan rooted in reality, not an academic discussion.

"The [Palestinian and Israeli] economies are inseparable. [Schueftan's separation plan] would damage both economies and be very bad for us. If you look at the map, you will see the Palestinian Authority can be connected only with Israel, primarily with Israel, and to a certain extent with Jordan."

Mr. Sneh said that since Israelis' average yearly income is $17,000, compared with $1,500 for Palestinians, any economic cold shoulder would be inhumane and the Palestinians "would be doomed to eternal poverty."

But he conceded the idea of physical separation along an Israeli-defined border was under study.

"The question is how to demarcate the border," he said. "OK. We will try to work on it through agreement. If that is not possible, we will have to try to do part of it unilaterally. But no more than that."

The PLO chief representative in Washington said yesterday that a Palestinian state, once it is formed, could negotiate labor and other agreements with Israel based on mutual interests.

"If Israel finds in it its interest not to have relations with the Palestinian state, that's up to Israel," said Hasan Abdel Rahman. "But I assure you it is not in the interest of either the Palestinian state or Israel to have a Berlin Wall between them.

"Mr. Schueftan is talking about apartheid. This is not going to work."

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