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When Bad Neighbors Require Good Fences
Facts on the ground in the Mideast.


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The border security fence is comprised of many sections totaling scores of miles. Some sections are concrete, others sheet metal. The barrier is three layers deep in parts, fifteen feet high and surrounded by razor wire. The area around it is lit by spotlights, monitored by cameras, motion detectors and magnetic sensors, and patrolled by armed guards with attack dogs.

But enough about our border with Mexico, let’s talk about Israel.

A year ago the Israeli cabinet approved construction of a security fence on the border with the Palestinian Authority. The first phase of the project, dubbed “Another Way,” was completed this week, and covers a total of 150km. Other phases of the project are in various stages of execution. When completed, the security barrier will demarcate nearly the entire border between Israel and the purported Palestinian state, and therein lies a problem.

The issue is not the need for the fence, its effectiveness, or its legitimacy. Israel is attempting to regulate access by terrorists to its sovereign territory by erecting a defensible barrier. Similar walls along the Lebanese and Gaza borders have proven useful (though not impregnable). The logic is similar to that which led the United States to begin walling up the border with Mexico in 1991. Our fence restricts the flow of illegal narcotics and illegal immigrants into the country, both of which are issues of national security. Israel faces a graver national-security problem, namely physical assaults on its territory and people by armed suicide terrorists. Imagine how comprehensive the U.S. border-defense system would be if terrorists were coming north to blow up buses and shopping centers to protest the Yanqui occupation of Mexican lands seized in an unjust war of aggression over 150 years ago. One suspects that our response would not be limited to defense — when Mexican bandits made raids into the U.S. in the early 20th century we sent the Army across the border to clean things up.

The Palestinians have showered the security barrier with invective — “apartheid fence,” “Berlin Wall” (particularly inapt since the Iron Curtain kept people in, not out), “ethnic cleansing,” “terrorism” and so forth. They have raised several specific issues, such as the fact that the wall will disrupt movement — which, yes, is the whole point, but they mean commerce — and fragment existing communities. However, the fence is not intended to be a hermetic seal. In recognition of the reliance of Israel on Palestinian labor in certain agricultural sectors, 41 access ways have been constructed in the completed section of the fence, or about one every 2.25 miles. (On the U.S. southern border there is on average one port of entry every 50 miles.)

The most-significant problem from the Palestinian point of view is that because the fence will run their entire border with Israel, it will thus define that border, and the precise location of borders has been one of the more contentious issues yet to be negotiated (after they accept the right of Israel to actually have borders, that is). The first phase of “Another Way” was less controversial because its path was close to the “green line,” the cease-fire line that defined the Israeli border with Jordan, and which is accepted by most of the international community at least a few Palestinians as the official boundary of Israel. Future phases will deviate by some degree from the green line, encompassing many of the authorized settlements to the east and Israeli suburbs of Jerusalem. The fence will thus achieve by fait accompli what warfare and negotiations have failed to achieve. It will become the ultimate fact on the ground. Yet, like most fences, it has two sides. By defining Israel’s border, it will also define Palestine’s. The fence will be as much a statement of Palestinian territoriality as Israeli. It will mark the limit of officially sanctioned Israeli settlements, and mean an end to Israeli expansion. In fact, the fence was first proposed by Israeli leftists precisely to detach Israel from the settlement movement, which at its most radical opposes any border west of the Jordan River. Thus while the Palestinians may not be inclined to accept the route the fence takes (which is still largely yet to be determined in planning, let alone construction), the fact is that once completed it will go a long way to end the territorial question.

Palestinian politicians, having barely conceded that Israel has a right to exist at all, are not ready for such a concrete resolution of the issue. They would prefer to have open — ambiguous, easier to renounce, more readily penetrated — borders. But the PA cannot reasonably expect Israel to adopt the kind of open-border policy that the United States has with Canada, given the harsh realities of the security situation and the unwillingness of the Palestinian leadership to take concerted action against the terrorists in its midst. So long as the Palestinian Authority refuses to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure, the security fence will be necessary. Palestinian Security Minister Muhammad Dahlan has attempted to defeat this reasoning by claiming “there’s no such thing as a terrorist infrastructure.” Well, that being the case, there’s no such thing as a security fence either. Matter solved.



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