- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 19, 2004

One of the most controversial (and misunderstood) issues in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute is Israel’s West Bank security barrier — a combination of fences, electronic sensors, motion detectors and security patrols used to prevent Palestinian terrorists from infiltrating Israel. A high-level team of American diplomats — Assistant Secretary of State William Burns and National Security Council officials Elliott Abrams and Steven Hadley — met yesterday with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to discuss ways for Israel to route the barrier so as to minimize any disruptions to the lives of Palestinians living near it.

For Israelis, the fence lessens the possibility of suicide attacks. It is patterned after a similar 36-square-mile fortified security fence surrounding the Gaza Strip. Since that fence was built in early 2001, no suicide bomber has entered Israel from Gaza. In the spring of 2002, when Israel began building the West Bank barrier, the country was experiencing more than 15 successful suicide bomb attacks per month and thwarting eight attacks per month. By fall 2003, with the barrier less than 50 percent complete, Israel was experiencing two to three successful attacks per month and intercepting more than 20.

In assessing the implications of the security barrier, there are two significant Israeli plans. The more invasive one, known as the “encirclement fence,” would leave Palestinians in control of just 53 percent of the West Bank, effectively blocking the creation of a viable Palestinian state. Palestinians point out that Mr. Sharon has refused to flatly rule out such a barrier, and it is possible that, if there were a new wave of suicide bombings, his government could come under pressure from Israeli hawks to build it. But the Bush administration has been urging Israel to build a less invasive barrier, and for now, Israel is doing precisely that, in the form of a fence being built by its Ministry of Defense. This barrier would leave as much as 85 percent of the West Bank available for a Palestinian state. The fence would leave 1.9 million Palestinians — approximately 94 percent of the Palestinian population of the West Bank — east of the fence, in the area available for creation of an independent state. Another 99,000 Palestinians would live in enclaves west of the fence, which would be connected to the West Bank by underpasses or checkpoints. When the population of these enclaves is added to the total of those located east of the fence, more than 99 percent of the Palestinian population would be living in land available for a future Palestinian state if Israel goes ahead with the Defense plan.

Still, Palestinians living near the security barrier are experiencing hardship as a result of its construction. Farmers are being denied unrestricted access to large portions of their crops. Israel has sought to mitigate the damage by making small changes in the route of the barrier and by expanding the number of agricultural gates that farmers can use to access their fields. Israel should also consider compensation for these farmers. Other moves that would mitigate hardship for Palestinians would include stepped-up efforts to remove isolated wildcat settlements in the West Bank and creating new economic opportunities for Palestinians. One model would be the Erez industrial zone in Gaza, where Palestinian employment has jumped nearly 60 percent during the current Israeli-Palestinian fighting.

We believe the Defense barrier is a necessary, prudent Israeli response to terror. The critical challenge is finding a way to build it that mitigates hardship for Palestinians and does not prevent the creation of an independent state next to Israel once Palestinians are prepared to act against terror.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide