Upon the decision of the Israeli government, Israeli contractors have been working hard for the last few months on setting up a “security fence” to stop “terrorists” from penetrating into Israel. They have finished building major parts of this fence around “Greater Jerusalem” and along the Green Line that separates Israel from the West Bank in areas such as Jenin, Tulkarem, and Qalqilya. The fence has expanded to run beyond the 1948 borders of Israel, acknowledged internationally until the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Sinai and the Golan Heights in 1967. The government Of Ariel Sharon has confiscated extensive areas of Palestinian land for this purpose, while the fate of other areas remains ambiguous. On Feb.21, 2002, after his first year in office, Sharon announced that the government’s inner cabinet has decided –unilaterally, of course- to establish “security buffer zones” between Israel and the Palestinian territories.
Sharon has always refused the principle of “geopolitical” separation between the two peoples. During his election campaign in 2000-2001, he accused his rival former Labor Party leader Ehud Barak of waning in the battle against “Palestinian terror” and capitulating to the conditions and political and geographic demands set by PNA President Yasser Arafat. In the programme of the government set up after winning the elections, there was no mention “separation between the two peoples” or setting up “security buffer zones”as Netanyahu did during his short term as Prime Minister. Instead, Sharon raised the idea of a long term interim solution to settle the conflict with the Palestinians, for a period of no less than 10 years. He agreed to the establishment of a Palestinian political “entity” on 42% of the Palestinian lands occupied in 1967. He did not object to calling this entity a Palestinian state, if the other side wished to do so. Sharon continued to speak out against a separation between Israel and the Palestinian territories. He turned down a detailed “separation” plan presented to him by the Planning Section in the Israeli Army after six months in office, and questioned the efficacity of the plan. He wanted to avoid any accusations from the Right of drawing the final borders of the Jewish state and squandering the “God-given land of Israel”, and Israel remains the only state in the world without formal borders with its neighbouring countries. He also strongly opposed the idea of “porous economic borders”, and the Labour Party position for an “agreed separation between the two peoples” raised by Barak during the Camp David negotiations in the year 2000, and the Taba talks in 2001. Sharon concentrated his attacks against the Labor Party because it agreed to the principle of two states for two peoples, Israel and Palestine, based on the1967 borders. He opposed partitioning Jerusalem politically into two capitals for two states, as well as the establishment of the Palestinian state on approximately 96% of the lands of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, as proposed by US President Bill Clinton to both sides in Washington on Dec.23, 2000. Sharon opposed the evacuation of any settlement, no matter what its size, and considered all the settlements in the Jordan Valley as vital for the security of Israel. Moreover, he opposed the idea of land swaps and pooling the settlements spread out in various parts of the west Bank into three main settlement blocs (Ariel in north of West Bank, Jerusalem and Latroun in the center, and Gush Etzion in the south).
For Sharon, Clinton’s ideas and the Labor Party programme only meant capitulation to “Palestinian terror” and exposing the security of Israel to immense strategic dangers. They would only lead to forfeiting the land of Israel to “others”. He pledged to put an end to violence expediently without having to separate the two peoples. He said publicly that he does not see any difference between Netzarim (in the heart of the Gaza Strip) and the city of Kfar Saba (next to Tel Aviv). When asked about the ” painful concessions” he had said he would be ready to make for the sake of peace with the Palestinians during and after the election campaign, Sharon answered that he meant abstaining from re-occupying cities like Ramallah, Jericho, Nablus and others. He added that no nation in the world has given away its historic national treasures unless it was defeated in war, but “we have not lost at war, we were victorious”. In his criticisms he hinted at former Israeli Prime Minister Yitshak Rabin, who was assassinated by Israeli extremists, who said in the wake of an operation in 1995 that took place in Bet Lied in which over 20 Israeli soldiers were killed, ” we have to work hard to separate from the other people and we will achieve that sooner or later”. After several Palestinian suicide operations inside Israel, the Israeli national unity government adopted the idea of “separation zones”. The Israeli Ministry of Defense floated tenders to Israeli companies to start building the security fence. Sharon shrouded the idea with some ambiguity to ward off the reaction of the extreme right-wing. He did not specify the final borders nor the length or depth of these areas and did not mention the fate of the remaining Palestinian territories occupied in 1967 and how the settlements would be separated from their Palestinian surroundings. However, right-wing extremists, both religious and secular, opposed the idea of a security fence and isolationg zones. The Mifdal, Yisrael Beitenu (Lieberman), the party of Rehavam Zeevi, the advocates of transfer of the Palestinians, some Likud groupings and the settlers groupings waged a violent campaign against the idea of separation. They accused Sharon of surrendering to Palestinian terror and adopting the ideas of the Labor Party on separation and abandoning “Judea and Samaria” while camouflaging his capitulation by saying it is a “security separation” and not a “geopolitical separation”.
There are several other political and practical complications that undermine the value and efficacy of the separation plan, rendering it a mere illusionary solution while security conditions for both the Palestinians and Israelis deteriorate further, and complicating any political solution to their long-standing conflict. The Palestinians are firmly against it, and both the UN General Assembly and Security Council have condemned it. The main problems that confront Sharon’s security fence are: First, Israel will have to build a security fence, electronic walls, concrete blocs, underground tunnels, and fixed control towers over an area extending no less than 200 kms, starting from Gilboa in the north of the West Bank to the mountains of Hebron in the south. All the committees appointed by previous governments to study “separation and isolation” did not come up with high expectations. One such committee was set up by Yitzhak Rabin, headed by former police minister Moshe Shahal and including former finance minister Avraham Shohat and a representative of the Army Chief of Staff. It reported that such an operation would be extremely complicated, highly costly and time consuming. The potential results of such a separation plan on the tactical and strategic security conditions would be to decrease the number of infiltrations into Israel but not to end them completely. It would not put an end to suicide bombings or to mortar attacks or other similar military operations, particularly if the plan is implemented unilaterally, without prior agreement with the Palestinians. A similar plan has been implemented in the Gaza Strip since several years and the results only confirm the estimates reached by the various Israeli committee reports. More than once, the Israeli Army had to invade populated Palestinian areas in Rafah, Gaza, Khan Yunis and Deir al-Balah in response to operations carried out by Palestinians who had penetrated a fence similar to what the present contractors are preparing to set up in the West Bank. In other instances, the Palestinians were able to launch short range mortar rockets.
Second, there is no argument that Sharon opposes, in principle, the idea of separating East Jerusalem from West Jerusalem, whether by building a wall or by barbed wires. He is well aware that the deployment of thousands of soldiers and security men, closure of streets within the two parts of the city, and enclosing “Greater Jerusalem” with checkpoints and concrete blocs during the last year, could not prevent some Palestinian forces from executing several suicide operations, killing tens of Israelis in the main streets of West Jerusalem. Moreover, the overlap between the settlements around Jerusalem and the Arab quarters of the city makes any “security separation” between the two sides virtually impossible. Sharon, his top ranking security officers, and Jerusalem mayor Ehud Olmert can not simply apply a policy of collective expulsion of Palestinians living in Jerusalem and its suburbs. The mere existence of over 300,000 Palestinians within the area of “Greater Jerusalem,” most of them carrying Israeli identification cards, is sufficient to undermine the sharon separation plan ffom its foundations.
Third, neither Sharon nor his allies Shimon Peres and Labour Party leader Benyamin Ben-Eliezer have explained the fate of thousands of Palestinians living in Jerusalem, or in the numerous towns and villages located directly on the Green Line in areas such as Qalqilya,Tulkarem and Jenin. Before and after the Aqsa Intifada, former Prime Minister Ehud Barak tried separating these towns and villages from Israel. Unilaterally and quietly the Israeli army has implemented practical measures to achieve such a separation. The security fence was developed, and several minor border adjustments were introduced and several military checkpoints were moved to new positions east of the 1967 borders. But all these measures and Sharon’s more recent arrangements have failed in preventing thousands of Palestinian workers from infiltration in search of work in Israel, where some of them stayed over for long weeks and months. In fact, some Palestinian “suicide bombers” have succeeded in breaking through all the measures put in place by the Army, the police and Border Guards and reached more than once to the heart of Israeli cities in west Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa, Afoula and Hadera.
Instead of depending on the security fence, Sharon ordered the army to occupy all the cities, villages and camps in the West Bank. The Army continues to occupy most of these cities since last March, imposing a “complete security closure” on them, and from time to time is forced to re-occupy those cities it withdraw from temporarily. In explaining and justifying the reasons for the curfew imposed on Palestinian cities and towns since several months, Sharon implicity admits to the Europeans and representatives of the United Nations Secretary-General and the Red Cross and some human rights groups, that the security plan based on separation has failed and has not provided Israel and Israelis with the security promised.
Fourth, the Sharon security fence did not address the problem of settlers and settlements in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Sharon adamantly refuses to evacuate any settlement, whether large or small.Assuming that the Israeli Army can build a buffer separating zone along the 1967 borders and around the city of Jerusalem, this would be an impossible feat in the surroundings of all the larger and smaller settlements spread out all over the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, particularly as some of these settlements are actually inside Palestinian cities such as Hebron and Jerusalem, and many others, such as Beit Eil, Kiryat Arba’, Alfi Menasheh, Ariel, Karni Shamron…etc. are adjacent to palestinian cities and villages, and there is no physical possibility to build any kind of separating area between them and these cities and villages.
The basic shortcomings of the unilateral security separation plan outlined above, and the refusal of the international and regional forces involved in peace-making in the region to deal with this plan as it is prejudicial to the final status issues, are in themselves sufficient proof of the deceptive nature of Sharon’s pledge to achieve “peace and security.” It is very similar to another deceptive illusion that was sustained for more than 20 years by the Israeli political, military and security establishment as to the security fence along the Lebanese borders, and the security buffer zone created in south Lebanon to which Israel appointed the now-forgotten General Anton Lahd as leader.
A number of Israeli writers, analysts and peace advocates have recently started talking about the failure of the security doctrine adopted by Sharon and his extremists security entourage. This expediates the process of revealing the truth to the Israeli public and adds to the ranks of those who believe that unilateral separation and the security fence only complicate any possibilities for a political solution without providing security for Israelis, while encurring great losses upon the Israeli economy. The majority of Israelis will soon realize the risks in Sharon’s “new-old ” policy on the building of peaceful relations between the two peoples, and on Israel’s relations with regional and international parties that uphold peace and the separation of the two peoples through a lasting peace agreement.
Sharon and the Israeli right-wing would be mistaken if they think that the security fence, security buffer zones and settlement expansion will create new facts on the ground that the Palestinians, the Arabs and the world would ultimately have to accept. If the undeclared purpose of Sharon and his military and political allies is to draw the map of the final solution under the pretext of creating security buffer zones surrounded by barbed wires, then all this project begets is the following: it stands in violation of international legitimacy, undermines the idea of Israeli-Arab peace, escalates the conflict in the region, deepens the hatred and widens the circle of blood-drenched violence on the historic land of Palestine.
Under all circumstances, the Israeli public should be addressed and convinced that there is no choice but to return to the negotiating table and to the joint security coordination against terror from both sides. Any attempt to solve unilaterally and by the use of force the “geopolitical” conflict over the complex issues of land, Jerusalem, borders, settlements, refugees and water will drag out over many years. Moreover, it will only further complicate any peaceful solution that alone can provide security for both peoples, and establish the basis for stability in this turbulent region since more than half a century. The Palestinians, Israeli advocates of peace and all the regional and international forces concerned with stability in the region should unite their resources. They should activate their efforts to renew the movement for peace based on the understanding that peace in the Middle East can only be achieved through building justice and stability in the Holy City. To uphold Jerusalem as the eternal united capital of Israel, and to isolate it from its surroundings with barbed wires, will only further aggravate the situation. Security for both Israelis and Palestinians can only be achieved through a fence of peace and not by setting up security fences and the building of more settlements.
Mamdouh Nofal was one of the founders of DFLP (Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine) in 1968. At present, he is a member of the Palestine National Council and the author of “The Story of the Secret Oslo Agreement” and “The Intifada: The Destruction of the Peace Process”.