The Great Wall of Palestine

A fascinating interview appeared recently in which one of the leaders of Peace Now in Israel, Professor Amiram Goldblum, explained how disillusioned he and others had become. And it was particularly interesting to read his proposed solution to the dispute with the Palestinians, namely, to unilaterally withdraw from the territories and build an airtight security fence. The idea of building a wall to separate Israel and Palestine is not new, but the endorsement of a prominent figure on the Israeli left was novel.

Previously, the main proponents of separation from the Palestinians have been Israelis on the right of the political spectrum and the idea has been often ridiculed as silly. Critics say you can’t build a Great Wall of Palestine — the border is too long and too porous, Palestinian workers need to be able to enter Israel and a fence wouldn’t prevent shootings or missiles from the other side. There are certain difficulties to be sure, but the fact is that Israel has fences delineating its borders with Lebanon, Syria and Jordan.

Like most others who have advocated a fence, Goldblum believes some territory in the West Bank must be annexed to incorporate as many of the Jews as possible. He specifically mentioned including 50 percent of the settlers, others have suggested drawing the border in such a way that 80 percent are on Israel’s side of the border. This can be done because most Jews live very close to the 1967 border (the “Green Line”). Look at a map and think of moving the border of Israel a tad to the right.

As for the rest of the Jews in the territories, Goldblum said they should be evacuated. If they want to remain where they are, he says, they would have to get approval from the Palestinians. I would modify this position. Once Israel decides to build a fence, it should give all the Jews on the other side the option of returning to Israel and receiving some compensation or staying where they are. Those that chose to stay would be told that they were now under the jurisdiction of the Palestinians, who could choose to arrest, expel or murder them.

Goldblum also had an answer to the concern that the Palestinians could still shoot at neighborhoods in Jerusalem and elsewhere from their side of the fence. “In that case, we would go in and take care of business.” The problem with Israel’s current policy, he suggested, is that Israel doesn’t have the same legitimacy to defend itself when it is acting as an occupying power and civilians bear the brunt of the retaliation. “It is preferable,” he maintained, “to conduct a state-against-state type of war from the international border....”

Why act unilaterally, as Goldblum suggests, instead of negotiate?

First, negotiations have broken down and there is little prospect of reaching agreement on the most contentious issues. Ehud Barak offered the Palestinians unprecedented concessions on these matters last year at Camp David, but Arafat rejected them. Arafat won’t get a better deal on settlements, refugees and Jerusalem from Prime Minister Sharon, who was elected largely because of the Israeli public’s repudiation of Barak’s offer.

Second, the Palestinians have not lived up to most of their obligations in the previous agreements, so there is no reason to expect them to fulfill the terms of new ones. For most of the last six years, Palestinian violations have been ignored because of the hope that a final settlement could still be reached and that peace would then follow. The “al-Aksa intifada” has convinced most Israelis that peace with the Palestinians is impossible and that agreements don’t serve Israeli interests because Yasser Arafat cannot or will not adhere to them.

Third, Israel cannot possibly get as good a deal in negotiations as it can by acting on its own. Barak offered Arafat 94 percent of the West Bank and the Palestinian leader still wasn’t satisfied. By acting unilaterally, Israel can establish what its leaders consider secure, defensible borders. The Palestinians would never accept those same frontiers in negotiations.

Finally, by unilaterally withdrawing, Israel would rid itself of the need to rule over another people (though 97% of Palestinians are now ruled by the Palestinian Authority). The Palestinians would have their state, to rule as they please, and Israelis could focus on their own lives rather than worrying about relations with their neighbors.

Would the Great Wall of Palestine eliminate the terrorist threat? Even if the closure was so effective that Israel could inspect every mouse entering Israel, as Goldblum suggested, it would not be a surprise if terrorism continued at some level. Again, once the Palestinians had their own state, however, Israel would have greater legitimacy to respond to aggression. In addition, the Palestinians would have more incentive to maintain order, since they would now have achieved their stated goal of independence and they would have to focus on building their state.

The choices today seem to be growing more and more limited. Israel can continue to pursue a negotiated solution, it can go to war or it can act unilaterally. The last option is now the best. Let the wall construction project begin.