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The construction of Israel's separation wall (or security fence), roughly along the '67 cease-fire line, separating Israelis from Palestinians in the West Bank, is in full swing. The first phases of the fence have been completed (see graphic below), and the entire wall will be up by the end of 2004 at a total cost of US$1 billion. As of Jan. 2004, 197 miles (317 km) of the security fence out of 452 miles (728 km) have been completed. The fence is 230 feet wide, including roads, ditches, barbed wire, and tracking paths.
So far, 7,800 Palestinians have found themselves outside of the fence, their villages physically separated from the fenced-in sections of the West Bank.
Former Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas once referred to the separation walla network of fencing, concrete wall, and barbed wirein terms such as "apartheid" and the "racist wall."
But while for some the fence is an inconvenience, for others it has saved lives. "Saving lives is more important than preserving the quality of life," Benjamin Netanyahu recently wrote in an op-ed for The New York Times. "Quality of life is always amenable to improvement. Death is permanent."
Thus for Israelis, the fence has become a security blanket, it has become the "Anti-Terrorism Fence." And indeed, the number of suicide bombings within Israel drastically decreased with every mile built. According to Tel Aviv's centrist Ma'ariv (July 8, 2004), the fence is saving lives every day. Since the beginning of construction, an approximate 90 percent decrease in the number of successful terror attacks was registered. The fence has contributed to an increase in Israel's GDP and resulted in a 0.3 percent decline in unemployment. According to Israel's Defense Ministry, this economic improvement has offset the economic harm done by terrorism.
The fence has become a litmus test for Israel's willingness to make peace with the Palestinians; it has been placed prominently on the international agenda because it creates facts on the ground. London's Financial Times (Oct. 2, 2003) called the separation fence, "Sharon's wall [that] will be a disaster [and] will not work...It puts beyond reach any conceivable solution to the century-old question of Palestine...[and] further pre-empts a two-states solution....The idea that this will give Israelis securitylet alone give the Palestinians justiceis a delusion."
According to Matti Golan, however, writing in Tel Aviv's financial Globes (Sept. 10, 2003), the security-, separation-, anti-terror fence, however one wants to refer to it, is actually a peace wall. "The fence would be better named the 'security and peace fence.' It should already be obvious that the only chance for a peace agreement with the Palestinians, if there is any chance at all, lies in them being unable to hurt us. So long as they can hurt us, there will be those among them who will try. The harder it becomes for them to kill us, the weaker will be their resistance to an agreement. In other words, the fence will not only enhance security, it will improve the chance for peace....To the Palestinians who claim the fence will harm the peace process, we must tell the truth: The opposite is the case. The fence will only help the Palestinians who truly want peace, by thwarting those who do not want peace."
Mandela, Rather Than Arafat?
But with every additional mile built, the fenceintended to separate between Israelis and Palestinians, between Israel and the West Bank and Gazacould achieve just the opposite and, in the long run, knit the two people together under one democratic government.
Because unilaterally separating the West Bank and the Gaza strip from Israelthus preventing a viable Palestinian statewould permanently prevent a two-state solution and make Palestinian independence impossible.
But that's not all. Within a decade, Jews will become a minority on both sides of the fence.
Let's assume the Palestinians would openly declare that they have given up their dream of an independent state. What if they would instead start demanding, "one man, one vote" for each Palestinian living in the West Bank and Gaza and claim the right to partake in Israel's democracy?
What if they were to fight the "fight of Mandela" instead of the "fight of Yasser Arafat?"
Israel's right-wing parties and settlers will soon be forced to agree on some
sort of two-state solution within the next 10 years, at the very latest, in order
to keep their dream of a "Jewish state" alive and to prevent that Israel
will become an Apartheid state.
The United Nations Intervenes
On Oct. 21, 2003, the United Nations General Assembly overwhelmingly approvedby a vote of 144 in favor, to 4 against, with 12 abstentionsa resolution demanding that Israel stop and reverse construction of the fence. The resolution was adopted after the United States vetoed on Oct. 14 a similar resolution put forward by the U.N. Security Council that would have called the barrier illegal. The General Assembly resolution is not legally bindingbut it is considered a reflection of international opinion. Israel's representative to the U.N. called the proceedings a "humiliating farce" and added that surrendering to manipulative games and illegal initiatives of the Palestinian observer made a mockery of the U.N.
On Dec. 8, 2003, the U.N. General Assembly approved by 90 to 8 a non-binding, symbolic resolution asking the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague to render an advisory opinion on the legal consequences of the separation fence.
The hearings opened on Feb. 23, 2004.
On Jan. 15, 2004, the ICJ came out with a statement authorizing the League of Arab States, at its request, "to participate in the proceedings in the case concerning Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory." And on Jan. 22, the ICJ authorized the Organization of the Islamic Conference, at its request, to participate in the proceedings as well.
United States promised Israel to submit, in writing to the ICJ, its opposition
to the so-called Fence Trial. The document to be submitted would express American
support for resolution of the security fence controversy through future peace
negotiations. Several European countries submitted similar letters to the court.
Israel's media reacted with anger to the prospects of dragging Israel to court over the fencea necessary barrier that Israelis regard as protecting their lives. "Does the international community wish to continue the systematic destruction of its institutions on the altar of the Arab-Israeli conflict?" fumed an editorial in Jerusalem's conservative, English-language Jerusalem Post (Jan. 6, 2004). "The ICJ is expected not only to consider the [legitimacy of the fence], in blatant violation of its own precedents and rules, but to rule against Israel. As a result, the march to declare Israel an international outlaw state will continue."
The editors of Tel Aviv's liberal Ha'aretz agreed in principle (Jan. 6), but they also warned the Israeli government: "Defending the fence now being built could also fatally compromise the entire idea of a fence designed to defend Israel from terror attacks. Justice Minister Yosef Lapid...urged his ministerial colleagues to reconsider the route that the fence is to take. To avert the ominous South Africa analogy, the government must change not only the route of the fence, but the wrongheaded political thinking behind that route."
months later, the government indeed had to change the route a bit. Israel's
ordered on June 30, 2004, to reroute a 25-mile section of the barrier
northwest of Jerusalem. However, it accepted the state's position that the fence
was essential for national security and was not being built for political reasons,
but that Israel had to balance security considerations with the needs of local
On Feb. 22, 2004, a day before the hearings in The Hague were set to begin, a suicide bombing on a bus in Jerusalem left eight Israelis dead and 70 maimed.
The ICJ Has Spoken
On July 9, 2004, the ICJ, as expected, and after receiving written arguments from more than 40 countries, decided 15 to 1 (the American judge ruled against) that the fence was illegal and against international law; that it should be removed; and compensation to Palestinians, whose lands have been confiscated, be paid. The ICJ further stated that the fence "gravely infringes a number of rights of Palestinians residing in the territory occupied by Israel."
Syria's newspaper Teshreen promptly called the decision a "historic victory for the Arab cause," and the Tehran Times cheered, "the world has finally woken up to this great Israeli crime."
But the court's decision was non-binding. And it failed to mention the issue of Palestinian terror. "[The ruling] fails to address the essence of the problem," fumed Ha'aretz on July 9, 2004, "and with it the very reason for building the fencePalestinian terror." Tel Aviv's centrist Yediot Aharonot went further: "The court has simply swallowed whole the Palestinian side of the argument and regurgitated it as a legal ruling. We don't doubt that if the judges had been asked to rule on Israel's existence, they would have decided 'that the Jewish state itself is an illegal entity.' "
But a July 12 editorial in Yediot Aharonot admitted that the security fence represented a limit to the aspirations of both the Palestinians and the Israelis: For the Palestinians, who consider the fence from its eastern side, it says: 'Thus far and no further. All of your national dreams and yearnings, from a state to [the right of] return, youthe Palestinianswill have to realize and implement them in the areas up to the fence; what lays beyond the fence is separated and blocked off forever. For you, it is a foreign country.' To the Israelis, who see the fence and its wall-like sections from the west, it indicatesin a very concrete and tangible fashionthe end of Jewish expansion in the Middle East and a final border to Zionist aspirations on the ground. This is our land. Beyond the fence, it is the land of others, not ours. The editors added, In the Israeli Palestinian conflict, the fence is creating the awareness of partition that hasnt yet been internalized. Aided by the fence, the concept, the route and the bricksthe partition will be internalized.
Non-binding or not, the ICJ's decision served as basis for the U.N. General Assembly's Resolution that was approved on July 20, 2004, by 150 countries in favor, 6 against (the United States, Israel, Australia, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Palau) and 10 abstentions (Cameroon, Canada, El Salvador, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Tonga, Uganda, Uruguay and Vanuatu). The U.N. Resolution decreed that the fence ought to be dismantled and the ICJ's ruling obeyed.
But, alas, the U.N. General Assembly's Resolution, too, is non-binding. "Thank God that the fate of Israel and of the Jewish people is not decided in this hall," remarked Israel's ambassador to the U.N., Dan Gillerman, after the vote.