- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 26, 2000

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak has asked his top aides to draw up a plan for the total separation of Israelis and Palestinians following weeks of street clashes that some say have shaken Israelis' faith in the peace process.

The unilateral separation plan, being drawn up in advance of an expected Palestinian declaration of statehood, would be carried out without Palestinian cooperation, according to the plan's architect, Deputy Defense Minister Efriam Sneh.

Israelis and Palestinians essentially would turn their backs on one another, ending the efforts begun in Oslo in 1993 to form friendly states intertwined economically and sharing resources, electricity and relatively open borders.

Hope for that sort of arrangement died with the weeks of violence in the West Bank, Gaza and Israel, many Israelis say.

Palestinian officials worry that the proposals for separation could leave unresolved the status of Israeli settlements inside the West Bank and simply leave the Palestinians isolated.

"It's not a plan of separation. It's a plan of isolation of the Palestinian areas," said Palestinian Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo.

Under the plan, Israel would withdraw from most of the West Bank and Gaza, leaving Palestinians with their homeland but depriving 120,000 Palestinians of their jobs in Israel. Israel would replace them with non-Arab laborers from Romania and other nations.

"We want to design a new economic framework we are at the beginning of building the architecture, and I am in charge of it," Mr. Sneh said Tuesday in an interview on WBEZ radio in Chicago.

"We are not going to damage the Palestinian economy or strangle the Palestinian entity. We want to try to shape a new reality, which unfortunately we have to do without the cooperation of the Palestinian side.

"At least, we want to demarcate a line of separation where our sovereignty will start and some one else's sovereignty will end," including border checkpoints.

Mr. Sneh spoke of the possibility of an elevated highway connecting the West Bank and Gaza so that Palestinians could travel "without seeing any Israeli policeman or Israeli officials, with all the sense of independence and uninterrupted sovereignty."

Mr. Sneh has said that Israel would erect border barriers in the West Bank, but he would not say where the new line would run or whether it would be continuous. None of the 144 Jewish settlements dotting the West Bank and Gaza Strip would be dismantled, he said.

Other analysts have said that the blocks of Jewish settlements adjacent to Israel would be annexed by Israel, but that remote, isolated settlements would be dismantled in order to minimize Arab-Israeli contact in the future.

The author of a recent book on separation that is being widely discussed within Israel's government as well as on Israel television said he believes most Israelis want total separation from the Palestinians.

"I don't think anything based on good will can work with Palestinians and Israelis. We should not be linked in any shape or form," said Dan Schueftan, a professor at Haifa University.

In an interview by telephone from Tel Aviv on Tuesday, Mr. Schueftan said Palestinians also must be barred from shipping goods through Israeli ports because "if you have Palestinian trucks going regularly through Israel, it is only a matter of time before one is loaded with C4 [explosive].

"The less contact the better," Mr. Schueftan said.

Israeli officials looking at separation must disentangle the web of shared electric power and water systems that has grown since the Israeli seizure of the West Bank and Gaza from Jordan and Egypt in the 1967 Arab-Israel war.

The separation would cut off Palestinians from Israel's economy, and they presumably would turn to regional neighbors Egypt and Jordan as trading partners. Israel would give up control over the borders between the new Palestinian state and those countries.

But many Israelis fear that would open the door to terrorists and Islamic fighters from Iraq, Yemen and Afghanistan seeking a new "jihad," or holy war.

Some analysts say Mr. Barak is resorting to discussion of the separation plan as a threat to persuade the Palestinians to return to the peace table and end the violence.

Still others say the separation plan is a way to tell Israelis that there is a way out of the current morass that if all else fails Israel will go it alone.

Others say it is meant to induce the rightist leader of the Likud Party, Ariel Sharon, to join him in a national unity government before parliament returns Monday.

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