In the October 10, 2000 issue of the Jerusalem Report, the magazine’s founding editor Hirsch Goodman opined that peace between Palestinians and Israelis was already a done deal. Though the failure of Camp David showed that a few details still had to be worked out, Goodman counseled his readers not to worry. The Oslo years had resulted in the creation of such an intricate web of social, economic, and political relations between Jews and Palestinians that nothing could henceforth tear them asunder.
By the time that magazine hit the newsstands, Israelis had already endured 12 days of warfare, in which they were unable to travel freely within or without the Green Line. Jews in Upper Nazareth found themselves prisoners in their homes for over a week; a motorist had been killed by a boulder dropped on his car from an overpass on the Tel Aviv-Haifa highway; and the Wadi Ara highway, one of the major thoroughfares traversing the Lower Galilee was closed for days by the rioting of Israeli Arabs in Umm-al-Fahd. Shots were fired at Jews in Jaffa and the Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo was under constant gunfire.
Two weeks later, in the next issue of the Jerusalem Report, Hirsch Goodman wrote another op-ed. So much for the complex web of interpersonal relationships ensuring that another intifada was impossible. Goodman bid adieu to all that. "What is needed is separation between them and us. Israel on one side of the border and Palestine on the other," he now proclaimed.
Hirsch Goodman’s private trauma serves as a pretty good microcosm of the trauma suffered by the Jews of Israel from the renewed outbreak of war almost three years ago. And the security fence currently under construction is the response of the Jewish population to that trauma.
Only a trauma of considerable impact could possibly have induced the Jews of Israel to voluntarily surround themselves with concrete walls and barbed wire, in effect turning the entire country into one large ghetto. For the Jews, the fence represents an admission of failure, a recognition that we shall not be able to live at peace with our neighbors any time in the near future.
Construction of the fence enjoys the overwhelming support of the Jewish population of Israel. Separation behind a fence, it should be remembered, was the platform of Labor candidate Amnon Mitzna in the last election, not of Ariel Sharon, who has only reluctantly signed on.
In their support for the fence, the vast majority of Israelis have renounced both of the great dreams than have animated Israeli politics for a decade or more. The Left has renounced its previous hopes that Oslo would usher in an era of peaceful coexistence between Jewish and Palestinian states living side by side in eternal harmony. And most of those on the Right have renounced the dream of Greater Israel, of Jewish sovereignty over the entirety of our Biblical patrimony. One does not build an ugly division down the middle of the Land if one intends to ultimately hold on to its entirety.
IF FOR JEWS the fence represents a confession of weariness and an end to all grand hopes, the Palestinians have been no more enthusiastic about the separation. Yasser Arafat denounces the security fence as the "apartheid" fence. For three years, the Palestinian media under Arafat’s direct control has been filled with Moslem preachers describing Jews as descendants of monkeys and quoting the hadith of Mohammed about how at the end of history each bush will call out to the Moslem faithful, " A Jew is hiding behind me. Come and kill him." Yet he accuses the Jews of racism for wanting to put a little distance between themselves and those who view them in this light.
Palestinian Prime Minister Abu Mazen declares that the fence is a breach of the Roadmap. The Roadmap, of course, says nothing about the security fence. It does, however, require the Palestinian Authority to confront and uproot the terrorist infrastructure, something Abu Mazen has repeatedly stated he will never do since it would lead to civil war.
Meanwhile, Secretary of State Colin Powell frets that the security fence undermines Abu Mazen. Abu Mazen wants peace but the Palestinian street does not, goes this old song. So Israel must buttress his credibility by showing that he can win concessions from Israel without the Palestinians making any tangible steps for peace. Hardly the sort of message Israel needs to be conveying right now.
President Bush worries that it will be difficult to develop confidence between Palestinians and Israelis "with a wall snaking through the West Bank." If anyone needs their confidence built at this juncture, it is Israelis, and the confidence they need is that they will not be blown up at the mall. After a decade in which over a 1,000 Jews have been murdered – 7 years of confidence building measures under Oslo and three years of war – Israelis have grown weary of worrying about Palestinian confidence and have started to worry about their own.
On this score, there can be little doubt that the fence will add to the security of Israelis.Those cities lying closest to the border with the Palestinians – e.g., Hadera, Netanya – have been among those most frequently targeted by Palestinian terrorists because of their ease of access. Increasing the obstacles that terrorists confront reaching Jewish population centers would not doubt stymie many of these attacks.
Indeed a similar fence surrounding the Gaza Strip has reduced the infiltration of terrorists to near zero. It has not, of course, prevented the Palestinians from lobbing missiles over the fence, but the fence’s lack of impregnability cannot take away from its ability to deter the type of attacks Israelis fear most.
The fact that separation, in general, and the fence, in particular, represent a real threat to the Palestinians is the best argument for its construction. The Palestinian economy depends on many Palestinians working in Israel. The more rigid the separation the better the Palestinians will understand that they cannot have their cake and eat it too. Israel cannot be expected to employ tens of thousands of Palestinian laborers while being simultaneously subjected to suicide bombings.
The fence, or even the threat of its completion, prevents the Palestinians from having their cake and eating it too in another way. Until now, they have always preferred to negotiate with a gun at Israel’s head – i.e., with the resumption of terrorist attacks a constant option at any point that Israel does not satisfy Palestinian demands. With a fence in place, the Palestinians will have less ability to play the terrorism card at will.
Finally, the presence of a security fence alters the whole pattern of negotiations to date. Since the start of the Oslo process, the negotiations have always predicated on concrete Israeli concessions in return for the repetition by the Palestinians of stale undertakings. The less the Palestinians like the fence, the more pressure Israel can bring to bear for the Palestinians to start fulfilling their undertakings with respect to combating terrorism and ending incitement.
It would be good to have the shoe on the other foot for once.