who's building the fence?

  1. 5,748 Posts.
    Jun. 30, 2003
    Editorial: Who's building the fence?

    The surprise Israeli-US controversy during National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice's visit to the region was over the security fence.

    President George W. Bush's close adviser asked us to stop building it, because even if it is not meant to be a political border, it looks like one. Rice's admonition came after she received an earful on this issue from the Palestinian side. Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas reportedly claimed that the fence was a way to create "facts on the ground" and that it undermined his authority by breaking up Palestinian areas and disturbing daily life.

    Abbas is not the only one who is steamed. In the current issue of The Atlantic Monthly, analysts from the Rand Corporation were asked to rate the top ten underattended international problems in the world today. Topping the list was Israel's security fence, which "will profoundly change the geographical and political landscape of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict." This alone may sound alarming, but the thinkers at Rand were just getting started.

    "The wall could also deepen Palestinian rage and enmity, of course, prompting escalated mortar and ground-to-ground missile attacks against targets inside Israel," they counseled. "The wall could also prompt further attacks on Israelis overseas, like the suicide bombing last November of a Mombasa hotel filled with Israeli tourists and the accompanying attempt to shoot down an Israeli chartered plane."

    Let's get this straight. For the last thousand days, Israel is pummeled by a panoply of terrorist groups competing over who can kill the most Jews. After much delay, and much too slowly according to most of the public, Israel finally starts building a fence to protect its entirely open non-border with the West Bank. Now we are told that fence itself will provoke more attacks.

    Is this really the logic to which Bush wishes to subscribe? Is he really telling us, like the analysts at Rand, that if we build a fence we have no one but ourselves to blame for all the missiles that will be shot over it and the bombs that will blow up around it? We would be the last to argue that the fence is a panacea. The fence, in fact, is arguably a dangerous concession to the idea that terror must be lived with, rather than wiped out. The United States understands that, for all the billions it is investing in homeland security its own fence the only real security lies in crushing terrorism, not redesigning your country around it.

    But whether the fence is a good idea or not for Israel's security should be our decision, not a subject for scolding from the United States.

    There is no law that any problem the Palestinians complain about should be dutifully dropped by visiting mediators on our doorstep.

    Rice, normally a straight-talking and straight-thinking interlocutor, should have told the Palestinians what any fair-minded observer would have automatically responded: You don't like the fence? Produce security for Israel and there will be no need for a fence.

    Israel is not building the fence, the Palestinians are.

    It took thousands of attacks and dozens of dead before Israel began to contemplate building it, and even now it is being built reluctantly. Those who believe that a full peace is possible don't like it, and neither do those who abhor any concession to terrorism. But the voices from the security community who say it will make their job easier have won the day.

    The US should not echo this Palestinian complaint for two other reasons.

    First, it is not possible to claim to support Israel's right to self defense while opposing targeted killings and the fence. What are Israelis supposed to do, if they cannot actively or passively defend themselves?

    Second, when the Palestinian Authority is concerned that the fence might have territorial implications, what they really are saying is that they should not have to pay a territorial price for their terror war. Is this the lesson the US wants to teach? The current diplomatic process is an elaborate attempt to find a workable alternative to the type of decisive victories won over Germany and Japan and, more recently, in Afghanistan and Iraq. It is one thing to avoid the unmistakable defeat of an enemy, as is being attempted now.

    It is quite another to avoid imposing even a cost for years of one of the more unprovoked, illegal, and barbaric spasms of aggression that the world has seen. If the fence happens to impose a political-diplomatic cost on the Palestinians for the jihad they chose to launch, the US should be explaining to the Palestinians that this is the consequence of their actions, not a problem for Israel to solve.

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