By James S. Robbins, August 1, 2003.
The border security fence is comprised of many sections totaling scores of
miles. Some sections are concrete, others sheet metal. The barrier is three
layers deep in parts, fifteen feet high and surrounded by razor wire. The area
around it is lit by spotlights, monitored by cameras, motion detectors and
magnetic sensors, and patrolled by armed guards with attack dogs.
But enough about our border with Mexico, let’s talk about Israel.
A year ago the Israeli cabinet approved construction of a security fence on the
border with the Palestinian Authority. The first phase of the project, dubbed
“Another Way,” was completed this week, and covers a total of 150 km. Other
phases of the project are in various stages of execution.
When completed, the security barrier will demarcate nearly the entire
border between Israel and the purported Palestinian state, and therein lies a problem.
The issue is not the need for the fence, its effectiveness, or its legitimacy. Israel
is attempting to regulate access by terrorists to its sovereign territory by
erecting a defensible barrier. Similar walls along the Lebanese and Gaza borders
have proven useful (though not impregnable).
The logic is similar to that which led the United States to begin walling up the
border with Mexico in 1991. Our fence restricts the flow of illegal narcotics and
illegal immigrants into the country, both of which are issues of national
Israel faces a graver national-security problem, namely physical assaults
on its territory and people by armed suicide terrorists. Imagine how
comprehensive the U.S. border-defense system would be if terrorists were
coming north to blow up buses and shopping centers to protest the Yanqui
occupation of Mexican lands seized in an unjust war of aggression over 150
years ago. One suspects that our response would not be limited to defense –
when Mexican bandits made raids into the U.S. in the early 20th century we
sent the Army across the border to clean things up.
The Palestinians have showered the security barrier with invective – “apartheid
fence,” “Berlin Wall” (particularly inapt since the Iron Curtain kept people in, not
out), “ethnic cleansing,” “terrorism” and so forth. They have raised several
specific issues, such as the fact that the wall will disrupt movement – which,
yes, is the whole point, but they mean commerce – and fragment existing
However, the fence is not intended to be a hermetic seal. In recognition
of the reliance of Israel on Palestinian labor in certain agricultural sectors, 41
access ways have been constructed in the completed section of the fence, or
about one every 2.25 miles. (On the U.S. southern border there is on average
one port of entry every 50 miles.)
The most-significant problem from the Palestinian point of view is that because
the fence will run their entire border with Israel, it will thus define that border,
and the precise location of borders has been one of the more contentious issues
yet to be negotiated (after they accept the right of Israel to actually have
borders, that is).
The first phase of ‘Another Way’ was less controversial because its path
was close to the ‘green line’, the cease-fire line from the 1967 war that defined
the Israeli border with Jordan, and which is accepted by most of the
international community at least a few Palestinians as the official boundary of Israel.
Future phases will deviate by some degree from the green line, encompassing
many of the authorized settlements to the east and Israeli suburbs of
Jerusalem. The fence will thus achieve by fait accompli what warfare and
negotiations have failed to achieve. It will become the ultimate fact on the ground.
Yet, like most fences, it has two sides. By defining Israel’s border, it will also
define Palestine’s. The fence will be as much a statement of Palestinian
territoriality as Israeli. It will mark the limit of officially sanctioned Israeli
settlements, and mean an end to Israeli expansion. In fact, the fence was first
proposed by Israeli leftists precisely to detach Israel from the settlement
movement, which at its most radical opposes any border west of the Jordan River.
Thus while the Palestinians may not be inclined to accept the route the
fence takes (which is still largely yet to be determined in planning, let alone
construction), the fact is that once completed it will go a long way to end the
Palestinian politicians, having barely conceded that Israel has a right to exist at
all, are not ready for such a concrete resolution of the issue. They would prefer
to have open – ambiguous, easier to renounce, more readily penetrated –
borders. But the PA cannot reasonably expect Israel to adopt the kind of
open-border policy that the United States has with Canada, given the harsh
realities of the security situation and the unwillingness of the Palestinian
leadership to take concerted action against the terrorists in its midst.
So long as the Palestinian Authority refuses to dismantle the terrorist
infrastructure, the security fence will be necessary.
Palestinian Security Minister Muhammad Dahlan has attempted to defeat
this reasoning by claiming “there’s no such thing as a terrorist infrastructure.”
Well, that being the case, there’s no such thing as a security fence
either. Matter solved.