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René Backmann Headshot

Security Barrier -- AKA a Wall -- in Palestine

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For the past several weeks, Mahmoud Abbas has waited for clarification from Hilary Clinton regarding the conditions to reopen peace talks with Israel. Where exactly does America stand? According to Clinton, "settlement activity is illegitimate" and the future borders between Israel and the Palestinian state will be based "on the 1967 lines, with the agreed swaps, and taking into account subsequent developments." To Palestinians, this "clarification" is not clear enough. They are afraid that the route of the separation wall and barrier will become, in the minds of the Israeli leadership, the western border of the future Palestinian state. And this is an option they are not ready to accept.

The "security barrier" is often credited with the dramatic, and very real, decline in terrorism in the Israel, and appears to have fulfilled its stated purpose as such. However, Israeli leaders are lately finding it more and more difficult to deny either the barrier's value as a bargaining chip in future peace negotiations, or that Israel had always intended the barrier to be the future border of a Palestinian state. These assumptions are clearly illustrated by the distribution of settlements along the wall. According to a UN report made public in July 2007, 365,744 out of 421,660 settlers surveyed in the West Bank or East Jerusalem (86.7 percent) lived west of the wall. One year later, in July 2008, Peace Now estimated the number of settlers living west of the wall to be 388,800 out of 454,200, based on statistics from the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics. More important, the five most heavily populated settlements of the West Bank (Ma'ale Adumim, Ariel, Alfei Menashe, Gush Etzion, and Modi'in Ilit), and the twelve settlements of East Jerusalem were on the western side of the barrier, sitting right on the very fringe of the West Bank.

These are not merely the paranoid delusions of Israel's enemies. During a debate broadcast live by France Inter in August 2007, former Israeli ambassador to France Nissim Zvili called the Green Line "the former border" between Israel and the future State of Palestine. Without going quite that far, numerous Israeli officials have said for years that the Green Line is not sacred, and that in the context of negotiations on final status, they were open to exchanges of territory with the Palestinians. Obsessed with reducing the non-Jewish population in Israel, some politicians have even suggested exchanging regions of Israel with an Arab-Israeli population for some border enclaves where principal settlements are located.

In a thirty-five-page study published in September 2008, General Giora Eiland, who presided over Israel's National Security Council from 2004 to 2006 after having served thirty-three years in the army, states that he is in favor of a future border that runs primarily along the "security barrier." This new border would annex most of the settlements west of the existing barrier. As compensation, Eiland suggests a range of possible territory exchanges, including a triangular barter among Israel, Palestine, and Egypt. He also believes that hostilities between Israelis and Palestinians are now so strong that all future negotiations must include the existence of a "security barrier."

Since the collapse of Oslo, the Second Intifada, and the rise to power of Hamas, Israeli public opinion, according to Eiland, is less and less in favor of "land for peace," which had always been an underlying assumption of all formal negotiations. According to a study conducted by the Institute for National Strategic Studies (INSS), in Tel Aviv, 56 percent of the Jewish population in Israel favored a Land for Peace program in 1977. By 2007, that number had fallen to 28 percent. And in a booklet issued by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs in 2007, three former ambassadors, a general, and the director of the National Defense Institute, stated that the barrier/border was insufficient. They suggested a line of separation much farther east, in which Israel assumes control of the Jordan Valley and widens the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem corridor in order to create a zone of defense for Jerusalem.

These ideas do not remotely take into account the reluctance or outright resistance of the Palestinians. Israeli military leaders seem convinced that whatever is good for Israel's security is permissible, and they have ignored international law, UN resolutions, and even their own commitments with almost complete impunity. In 2004, a close collaborator of the state prosecutor Talia Sasson was commissioned by Ariel Sharon to create a report on the wild settlements in the West Bank. Her research found that many of these "outposts" had received direct funding from the ministries of Housing, Energy, Education, and Defense, in violation of Israeli law. Submitted to the government in March 2005, Sasson's report was relegated to a drawer, where it still lies. Sasson promptly resigned. "We have built a magnificent country, of which I am proud," she confided in April 2008, on the eve of Israel's sixtieth anniversary, "but our democracy is in danger. The military thinks they can do as they please, we are almost incapable of appreciating the distress of others, and since Rabin's assassination, all of our leaders have lacked courage."