No matter how they react officially, both Israelis and Palestinians have a
problem after the International Court of Justice ruling against Israel's
West Bank security fence.
Israel cannot continue construction as planned because it is caught between
the international ruling, which it rejects, and its own Supreme Court,
which recently ruled that parts of the intrusive fence must be altered to
reduce their negative impact on Palestinians. While Palestinians may be
emboldened by international reaction to the ICJ decision, they'll gain
little in the long term unless they assume responsibility for the terrorism
that led to the fence. Ironically, though, the harsh ruling could offer
both sides an opportunity to step back and deal with their current impasse
The Israeli and Palestinian reactions to the court's decision reflect
historic, conflicting positions on the status of areas occupied by Israel
since the 1967 Six-Day War. Palestinians view as illegal every Israeli
action in what they define as occupied Palestinian land. Therefore,
unilateral moves such as settlements, outposts and the fence are all a
breach of international law and should be opposed. Israel believes that the
right to protect its citizens justifies security measures such as the
fence, especially since the status of the areas occupied in the 1967 war
remains unresolved. (In the absence of peace treaties, Israel's 1949
armistice lines along the West Bank and Gaza Strip were never declared
Both of these positions are ingenious. Palestinians oppose the fence while
conveniently ignoring its root cause. Under Yasser Arafat's disastrous
leadership, they've been unwilling to do anything meaningful to challenge
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. As recently as last week, when leaders
of the Middle East quartet (the United States, the United Nations, Russia
and the European Union) urged Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia to
act swiftly on security and political reforms, he criticized them for
discussing anything but the fence. Ultimately, Palestinian inaction speaks
louder than their rhetoric in international forums.
Mr. Sharon has also erred. Last year, in seeking to reconcile the public's
desire for a barrier and his own interest in holding onto significant
portions of the West Bank, he crafted a problematic route that was bound to
backfire. Instead of clearly separating Israelis from Palestinians (as
intended by the barrier's original architects), the hybrid route separates
Israelis from Israelis and Palestinians from Palestinians.
Mr. Sharon angered his supporters on the right by leaving thousands of
Israeli settlers outside the fence. More seriously, he handicapped the
lives of close to 400,000 (out of nearly two million) Palestinians -- by
including them on the Israeli side of the fence, separating them from
agricultural lands, or virtually locking them between primary and secondary
It was fallacy to assume that a fence through the heartland of Palestinian
living patterns could guarantee security in the absence of a negotiated
agreement. The number of terrorist infiltrations has dropped significantly
since construction began, but the absence of a political horizon will
eventually lead to more sophisticated lethal attacks that move over or
under the fence. Even if locked in enclaves, Palestinians will continue to
What next? Ironically, taken together, the Israeli Supreme Court and ICJ
rulings could provide an opportunity for both sides to climb down a notch
from their respective trees. The Israeli government is already altering the
fence's route in line with the Supreme Court directive. In the final
analysis, it is likely to resemble the territorial arrangements proposed by
former U.S. president Bill Clinton in December of 2001.
For their part, the Palestinians, instead of investing all their energy in
fighting the fence, could consider a ceasefire and undertake security
reforms that would make it easier for Israel to change the route.
Unfortunately, such ideas have little chance as long as Mr. Sharon opposes
negotiations with the Palestinian Authority and Mr. Arafat remains
determined to control Palestinian security forces.
Nevertheless, Israel can't afford to ignore the ICJ ruling. U.S. support
notwithstanding, the international relations it needs and desires will
suffer as a result of this week's developments. But more important,
Israelis have to consider the longer-term implications of a fence that
creates an ongoing incentive for Palestinian attacks. Israeli political
scientist Emanuel Adler puts it starkly: "It is in Israel's national
interest not to create a new 'injustice,' which Palestinians will try to
redress for future generations." It's time to rethink the fence.
Source: Globe and Mail, July 10, 2004
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