On June 16, 2002 Israel started construction of a 217 mile long fence that will run the as of yet unmarked border between the West Bank and Israel. The new border will look similar to the border that once separated Germany in to the Federal Republic Of Germany and The German Democratic Republic. A border that split a nation and a continent apart that was destined to become one of the most visible signs of the Cold War in Europe. Like the former inner German border, it will have a fence, ditches, roads patrolled by soldiers and electronic surveillance facilities. The only difference will be that it is supposed to keep people outside the country instead of in it.
But the new fence has brought with it an unlikely coalition of people that want to stop the construction of the fence. On one side are the some of the most conservative Israelis settlers and on the other are many Palestinians. Both oppose the construction of the barrier for different reasons.
Many Israeli settlers fear that the new fortifications will create a de-facto border that will not include their settlements. They fear that their lands will end up in a future Palestinian state. According to CNN, they have tried to persuade Prime Minister Ariel to locate the fence farther into the West Bank and to provide guarantees that it will never become a political border.
At the same time, many Palestinians fear that the new fence will create a border that is â€œset in stoneâ€ and will not be negotiable in further talks with the Israeli government. In addition, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat said on CNN that the fence is sealing off Palestinian towns, villages and refugee camps. He also said that a fence in it self is not a bad idea, but it would have to be constructed after the issue of defining border was solved. The current plan for the fence would put Jerusalem almost exclusively on the Israeli side, with the exception of a few Palestinian suburbs.
The United States has not criticized Israel for the construction of the fence but has warned that Israel should be mindful of the consequences according to Scott McClellan, the White House deputy press secretary. At the same time Israel insists that the fence is only intended as a security measure and in no way to form a border with a future Palestinian state.
The construction of the fence comes at a time, when negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) have come a halt. There have been no high level negotiations between the two parties since the start of the Palestinian intifada in October of 2000.
Could the fence really stop future suicide attacks? In order to answer this question, we have to look at the Gaza Strip. There, such a fence has been in existence for several years now. Since then, suicide attacks form this area have become virtually non-existent, but at the same time, Gaza City has become the center of terrorism in the Middle East. The Israeli Defense Forces [IDF] do not enter the area and militancy is as widely spread as the poverty that marks the area. It appears that the IDF has given up on fighting terrorism in the area. The only way the IDF has managed to strike against militants in the area has been by air. A few weeks ago, they dropped a one ton bomb on the house of Salah Shehadeh, the military leader of Hamas according to the AP.
The problems in the Gaza Strip clearly show that the building of a fence solves no problems, but only pushes the out of view for the populace protected by it. Although it might help in the short and middle term, it will not make the problem go away. The only solution for stopping the violence is to create a permanent peace that would integrate Israel into a community with its Arab neighbors and the only way to achieve is to create a sovereign Palestinian state. The biggest problem with this is that the current Israeli government is unwilling to continue the peace process amidst raging Palestinian violence.
Currently the only things that both parties can agree on, is that the issue of Jerusalem has to be solved before anything else can happen. My personal opinion here is that it may be time to involve a third party, like the Vatican to take control over the city. The other thing I truly belive is that currently no leader, be it Israeli or Palestinian, is able or willing to propose such a bold solution. Both sides are to entrenched in their positions to look beyond their trench to find a solution.